Police Officer Writing a Ticket

What Is an Infraction?

An infraction, also known as a petty offense, is a minor violation of an ordinance, municipal code, or administrative regulation.

In many areas, traffic violations like speeding or failure to signal are considered infractions. Infractions are considered civil offenses rather than criminal offenses in most states, so you cannot be incarcerated for committing an infraction. Hopefully, an individual dealing with an infraction doesn’t have to worry about jail time, but if he or she does, it’s important to know a good bail bond agent.

Some jurisdictions do treat infractions like criminal offenses, but they rarely incarcerate someone for an infraction. In the rare case they do incarcerate someone for an infraction, the individual will just serve time in a local jail.

There are many types of infractions, and offenses vary from place to place. Not all local laws and ordinances are the same, so it’s important to become familiar with local laws to avoid accidentally committing an infraction. Some actions are considered infractions almost everywhere, though.

Common infractions include:

  • Littering
  • Jaywalking
  • Disturbing the peace
  • Drinking in public
  • Operating a business without a license
  • Fishing without a license
  • Building permit violations

Some states in recent years have made efforts to classify some drug violations as infractions. For example, in California, possessing less than an ounce of marijuana is an infraction, so you can’t go to jail for this offense, and it won’t be included in your criminal record. However, in most states, all drug-related offenses are misdemeanors or felonies.

The penalty for committing an infraction is usually a fine. In some cases, you’ll need to appear in court. When you commit an infraction, the process may vary a little depending on the offense. However, you can expect the officer to issue you a citation or a ticket. The citation will include several important pieces of information.

Citation Information:

  • Citation number
  • Description of offense and relevant law or code
  • Officer’s name
  • Courthouse location
  • Instructions for appearing in court or paying fine

You typically have fewer rights with an infraction than with a misdemeanor or a felony because you’re not being deprived of any freedoms. With an infraction, you don’t have a constitutional right to a jury trial. Some states have laws that give you this right, though. You also don’t have a right to free counsel. You can hire a lawyer to represent you in court, but you’ll have to pay for the lawyer. Unless you think you were unfairly charged, it usually isn’t worth it to hire a lawyer.

Although you don’t have the same rights as those who commit misdemeanors or felonies, you still have a right to a hearing before a judge. During the hearing, you can present evidence or call witnesses, including the officer who gave you the citation.

If you commit an infraction and receive a citation, you have four options for responding:
1. Admit guilt and pay the fine.
2. Justify or explain yourself and pay the fine.
3. Request an informal hearing, which just involves you, the officer, and the magistrate.
4. Request a court hearing and hire a lawyer to represent you.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s important that you respond by the deadline, which should be printed on your citation. If you don’t, there will be a default judgment. If you committed a traffic violation, this could add points to your license or could lead to your license being suspended. Not showing up to court when your citation requires it could lead to a warrant for your arrest. Unpaid infractions can also sometimes lead to misdemeanors or jail time.

Infractions are minor offenses that don’t remain on your record and don’t bring a risk of jail time. Many people commit infractions at least once in their lives, but it’s essential that you respond to the citation in time.

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