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Can You Go to Jail for a Traffic Violation?

Michael Kuzma Attorney at Law Feb. 13, 2023

Prison guard escort inmate through corridor in jailMost people don’t consider a traffic violation in New York to be a very serious offense. It is true that for most minor traffic stops, the most you’ll face is a fine. However, there are some circumstances that may cause the penalty for a traffic ticket to increase significantly and even result in jail time. While this isn’t common, it still can happen. You should know ahead of time how jail time for a traffic violation may result and how you can get help fighting a traffic violation. 

If you’ve recently been pulled over in a traffic stop and received a citation and want to know if it’s serious, contact a traffic lawyer right away. Reach out to Attorney Michael Kuzma. From my office in Buffalo, New York, I serve clients throughout the United States and Canada who have received traffic tickets in Western New York. Set up a consultation to start moving forward. 

Understanding New York’s Point System  

Each state determines their own process for issuing tickets and traffic violation fines to drivers. In the State of New York, this is done through a point system. By using this process, the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can track and identify high risk drivers and then use this data to decide what sort of penalty they should face. Essentially, for every traffic violation you’re convicted of, you earn a certain number of points that then get attached to your driver license and driving record. If you get over 11 points within an 18 month period, you run the risk of having your license suspended. For example, speeding 11 to 20 miles over the limit results in four points being added to your record while running a red light will get you three points. The more points you have, the greater your risk of a serious consequence.  

Is Jail Time for a Traffic Violation Possible?  

It is possible to go to jail for a traffic violation, but not likely. However, this risk increases the more violations you have and the closer they are together. Because of this, it's almost always a good idea to contest your ticket and show up in court to address it. When clients ask me, “Should I fight my traffic violation?” I nearly always say yes. Even if you’ve only had one or two violations in the last year and a half, you need to be proactive and take steps now to reduce your risk of a serious penalty. However, before jail time is a real possibility, you’ll face other penalties such as increasing fines, license suspension, or even having your vehicle impounded.  

If you continue to accumulate traffic tickets and aren't dealing with them by paying the fines or showing up in court, it’s possible that a judge will issue a bench warrant for unpaid tickets or failure to appear. It’s here that you run the greatest risk of facing jail time. When you have a warrant out on you, law enforcement can pick you up and take you into custody at any time. This could mean that an officer runs your license plate, pulls you over, and instead of issuing you another ticket, impounds your car and takes you away in the squad car. This could mean you’ll then spend time in local jail or face another type of penalty such as community service. If this ever happens to you, you should always contact a criminal defense attorney who can advise you on your next steps at the time of the arrest and help represent your interests should a judge deem jail time necessary. 

Factors That Could Lead to Jail Time  

It’s worth stating again that most minor traffic violations won’t result in jail time for the majority of people. However, if you’re routinely pulled over by law enforcement while in your car, especially for offenses like reckless driving and driving well over the speed limit, and you ignore these tickets, a warrant could be issued for your arrest. This includes even late payments or failing to appear in court. Of course, there are other circumstances when you’ve been arrested for more serious traffic offenses like a hit-and-run, driving under the influence (DUI, or driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New York), or reckless driving that endangers the lives of others, that can much more easily lead to jail time.  

The bottom line is that if you’re concerned about any of these scenarios, or know that you’ve failed to pay or address speeding tickets or other moving violations in the past, you should reach out to an experienced lawyer right away to take action. A skilled lawyer should be able to quickly assess and evaluate the specifics of your situation and let you know the best course of action. 

Speak With an Experienced Attorney  

If you have been issued a ticket in Western New York, reach out to Attorney Michael Kuzma to discuss your options for fighting traffic violations.