When Can Traffic Tickets Result in Criminal Charges in North Carolina?

All drivers in North Carolina have a legal duty to follow traffic rules to keep everyone as safe as possible. When a driver breaks a traffic regulation, law enforcement officers can pull them over and give them a ticket. Generally, traffic violations are considered minor infractions that require a driver to pay a fine. They usually do not have serious consequences, but drivers can receive license points, even for minor traffic infractions. 

For example, forgetting to use a turn signal, failing to stop at a red light, and not having a valid registration are examples of traffic infractions with relatively minor consequences. On the other hand, some driving violations are more serious. In addition to getting points on your driver’s license, you could face jail time for certain traffic violations in North Carolina.

Aggressive Driving

Aggressive driving is a crime in North Carolina that involves speeding and driving recklessly. To prove that a driver was driving recklessly, the prosecutor must prove that the driver committed two or more of the following traffic violations:

  • Running through a red light
  • Illegal passing
  • Running through a stop sign
  • Failure to yield the right of way
  • Following too closely

Aggressive driving is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 120 days in jail and a discretionary fine. 

Duty to Stop in the Event of a Crash

If you have been involved in a car accident, you are legally required to stop and remain at the accident scene until a police officer states that you are free to leave. If you leave the scene of a car, you could be charged with a crime, as follows:

  • Class 1 misdemeanor: the accident only resulted in property damage. The penalty is up to 120 days in jail.
  • Class H felony: the crash resulted in an injury. The penalty is four to 25 months in jail.
  • Class F felony: the crash resulted in serious bodily injury. The penalty is 10 to 41 months in jail.
Impaired Driving

Driving while impaired by alcohol or another intoxicating substance can result in Criminal charges in North Carolina. Under North Carolina law, if you have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher or have any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in your blood or urine, you can be charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI). You do not necessarily have to have a specific BAC to be charged with a DWI. You can also be charged if a law enforcement officer observes you driving in a way that shows you are intoxicated. 

Most DWI charges are considered misdemeanors, and a DWI has five sentencing levels. Level V offenses are the least serious offenses and are punishable by 24 hours to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $200. A Level I offense is the most serious and is punishable by 30 days to two years in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. If you have more than three DWI convictions, you may be charged as a habitual DWI offender and face a felony DWI with more severe penalties. 

Reckless Driving

Reckless driving occurs when a driver drives a vehicle “carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others” or “without due caution and circumspection and at speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property.” In North Carolina, reckless driving is considered a Class 2 misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

The Penalties of a Criminal Speeding Ticket

North Carolina General Statute 20-141 defines speeding and gives law enforcement a wide range of authority for citing people for speeding. It is more wide-ranging than people realize. Speeding does not just cover driving in excess of the posted speed limit. It also states that “No person shall drive a vehicle on a highway or in a public vehicular area at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions then existing.” Traffic conditions, weather conditions, and other factors can have an effect on being cited. When a person drives 15 miles or more over the speed limit, the driver can face a Class 2 misdemeanor. 

Contact a Charlotte Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a traffic-related crime in Charlotte, North Carolina, it is crucial that you discuss your case with an experienced attorney. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC, as soon as possible to schedule a free case evaluation.