Traffic Infractions and Misdemeanors

Confrontations With The Police
There are things to know (and practice) should you be confronted by the police. Whether arrested or not, when the police approach you, make no statements. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say at any time to anyone- police, friends, reporters, cellmates except your lawyer, whether written or verbal, can and will be used against you. You have the right to a lawyer. You do not have to sign anything, even a waiver, without having a lawyer present to help you.

When approached by an officer, you should be polite. Do not say that you know your rights, or insist on being advised of your rights at the outset. Do not pull away or refuse to be frisked for weapons, and do not verbally or physically resist arrest. Do not make any sudden movements.

When an officer wants to search you, your home or your car, do not consent. State clearly that you do not consent to any search. You do not have to agree. However, do not use force to resist a search.

Traffic Offenses and Misdemeanors
Violations of the motor vehicle laws have multiple consequences. Points are assessed against your driving record, which can result in the suspension or revocation of your privilege to drive. Your insurance carrier will also assess points, which will result in increased costs for coverage. Moreover, and probably most importantly, traffic offenses can get someone killed.

Speeding Violations
Certain violations, or combinations of violations, can result in license suspension. For example, a conviction for speeding over 55 mph and more than 15 mph over the posted limit will cause suspension. Plus, two convictions for speeding over 55 mph (or one over 55 mph and a Reckless Driving) in the space of one year will cause suspension. There are two ways to avoid the harsh consequences of a speeding violation.

By statute, if you have a clean driving record for the previous three years and then are convicted for speeding ten (10) miles or fewer over the limit (but not in a school zone), no insurance points may be assigned on account of that conviction. However, a subsequent ticket in the following three years will revive the first ticket for insurance points.

Prayer For Judgment Continued
The other way one may escape punishment is a device called “Prayer for Judgment Continued”, or PJC. While you are, in fact, convicted of the offense, it is not entered on your record as a conviction, and you may not be punished as for a conviction. A PJC is most commonly allowed when one has a very good record or there are extenuating circumstances in the case. It is completely within the discretion of the court. When a judge, in his or her infinite wisdom and grace, continues the Prayer for Judgment in your case, neither DMV points nor insurance points may be assessed for that offense. It is only valid, however, if no other PJC has been entered on the driver’s household insurance policy for the prior three (3) years. For traffic tickets or other moving violations, an individual may receive two (2) PJCs every five (5) years without receiving DMV points. (Thus, if you were on the policy with your father, Dad’s PJC last year negates your PJC entered today.) A Prayer for Judgment continued does go on your permanent record. When you get too many DMV points (12 in a 3 year period) or speed resulting in suspension of your driving privilege, the Department of Motor Vehicles will notify you by mail at your record address. You have the right to a hearing and should request one. Depending on your record and situation, they may limit the period of suspension or allow you a special privilege to drive. It is wise to consult an attorney for any citation, although many charges may be handled in court without the assistance of counsel.

Administrative Court in Orange County
If you are charged in Orange County with a traffic violation or a crime or an infraction (a non-criminal violation of the law which can result in the imposition of a fine only), your first District Court appearance will be in Administrative Court in Chapel Hill or Hillsborough. No trials are conducted at this session. It is used to dispose of minor misdemeanors through simple plea-bargaining, to pay fines if you plead guilty, or to seek a prayer for judgment continued (PJC).

You will sign in at a desk and then enter the courtroom (or, if the docket is crowded, you may be in line to enter the courtroom). The cases are called in order of arrival. An Assistant District Attorney (ADA) will call you forward. When the ADA calls your name, he or she will ask you what you would like to do with your case (e.g., plead guilty, plead not guilty, seek a reduction on a speeding ticket).

If you plead guilty to either a minor misdemeanor traffic charge or to a reduced charge, the court will impose a fine and court costs which you will be required to pay. If you fail to pay in full within 20 days, your driver’s license will be revoked.

If you ask the Judge for a prayer for judgment continued (PJC) and it is granted, the court will normally require you to pay the costs of court.

If you ask the ADA for a deferred prosecution and he or she agrees, you will be assigned a specific court date in Chapel Hill or Hillsborough where you will meet with the ADA and the people who administer the Community Service Program to work out the terms of your deferred prosecution agreement.

If you plead not guilty, you will be assigned a trial date in Chapel Hill or Hillsborough approximately 3 or 4 weeks in the future.

You have the right to have a lawyer represent you at trial. If you are charged with a serious misdemeanor and wish to be represented by a lawyer, but are financially unable to hire a lawyer, the court has the authority to appoint the Public Defender to represent you. In order to obtain the services of the Public Defender, you must first go to the office of the Clerk of Court and complete and swear to a financial affidavit. If the Public Defender is appointed for you, there will be no charge if you are found not guilty or the case is dismissed. However, if you plead guilty or are found guilty by the court at trial, you will be required to pay, in addition to any fines and court costs, a fee set by the court for the services of the Public Defender.

You also have the right to represent yourself without a lawyer if you choose. The attorneys at Carolina Student Legal Services, Inc. will be glad to assist you in preparing for court if you are a full-time student and have paid your Student Activity Fees. Call for an appointment at 919-962-1303.

Court Etiquette
There are some basic rules to follow should you decide to handle a charge on your own. Be on time for court. In fact, go early. Many Assistant District Attorneys are available for conference before court opens. Dress with respect for the institution. Judges are human, and your appearance affects their perception and judgment. Be courteous and deferential. When you are seeking a reduction on a speeding charge, you are asking for indulgence. You are not entitled to a break. Treat everyone you encounter at the court house – attorneys, bailiffs, judges, clerks – with courtesy and respect.

A misdemeanor is a criminal violation punishable by a fine and/or up to two (2) years of imprisonment. A conviction becomes a permanent part of your criminal record and may affect employment prospects, entrance into programs for graduate studies, and professional schools and licensing.

Deferred Prosecution
For first offenders, there may be a method available to you for disposing of criminal charges and keeping a conviction off your record. The District Attorney may agree to defer the prosecution of your case if you will perform community service. If you are charged with certain alcohol-related crimes, the District Attorney may agree to defer prosecution if you agree to attend an alcohol education class, in lieu of community service, at the UNC Student Health Service. Once you have completed the community service or alcohol education class and have paid the fees for participation in the program, the charge is dismissed. If you have no previous convictions or expunctions, the charge itself can be removed from your record. Deferred prosecution is generally only available for first offenses. It will depend on the circumstances of your case, and is always within the discretion of the prosecutor. You can ask for deferred prosecution on your own or through your attorney.

Verified June 2011