Most of the time when we’re talking about breaking the law and vehicles, we’re talking about what the police call “misdemeanors.” This is usually just the small stuff that you may be familiar with, including speeding tickets for going over the limit, violations for running a red light or a stop sign, or even a DUI/DWI, more popularly known as drunk driving.
But there are also times when we can screw up in a really big way while in our cars, and both the law—and sometimes other people—can come down really hard for these screw ups. In fact, some of these mistakes are so big that graduate from misdemeanors that mean relatively little in the grand scheme of things to felonies.
A felony is serious. It’s serious enough that it’s actually considered a criminal offense, and once you’re convicted of a criminal offense, that goes on your record. And that means that any time someone does a 100% legal background check on you for criminal convictions, felony/criminal charges will show up.
This can affect everything from the willingness people have to hire you to how easy it is for you to leave the USA and/or enter other countries. So what’s a felony, and how do you end up with this?
Driving & The Big House
In the most general terms, a felony is any conviction for which the court can actually send you to jail for more than one year. Your average traffic misdemeanor totally does not fall here. You can’t even go to jail for going over the speed limit, or running a red light.
That’s not to say it’s okay to do these things, you really shouldn’t be. But if you DO happen to commit a misdemeanor, this is just not worth the time and expense of setting a court date, assembling a jury and getting two lawyers to put on their game face and give blow out speeches before a jury has to decide your fate.
You might like that kind of drama, but the reality is usually you’ll just get a ticket, and there won’t be a court date unless you decide to challenge that ticket and go see a judge about it.
On the other hand, there are some things you can do in a car that will potentially land you in jail, or, if not that, possibly cost you every last penny you have in your bank account.
How Felonies Work
One way to get a felony is through an “upgrade.” A single charge of DUI/DWI is something that almost any driver can work off as long as they keep their head low and stay out of trouble thereafter. But if, for whatever crazy reason, you absolutely cannot stay off the alcohol or drugs and keep driving, and keep getting caught repeatedly by the police, multiple charges will eventually change over to a traffic felony. At that point, it will show up as a criminal charge should anyone do a background check.
The other time when a traffic crime gets elevated to a felony is when a death is involved. If you’re in an accident, and that accident is serious enough that people die, there’s going to be a much more aggressive investigation by both the police and insurance companies to find out who’s to blame. If it should come out that you were texting, shooting video, or just driving drunk when it happened, then, if you’re lucky, this will be chalked up to negligence.
If you’re not lucky, and the people related to whoever died want to really make you pay for what’s happened, you can get sued in court for what is called “wrongful death,” and, if that charge goes through, not only do you have a criminal record, but you and/or your insurance company will have to pay out to the people doing the suing.
And let’s not get into a hit and run incident. If you hit a pedestrian or cyclist and then drive off and are later tracked down and convicted, a hit and run is an automatic felony. You might have avoided it if you’d stayed and dealt with the police, but fleeing the scene is a guaranteed criminal act.
Felony Traffic Offenses
I’m sure you already know that felonies are serious traffic offenses. As mentioned earlier, they are generally considered to be the most serious crimes in any jurisdiction.
But if you’d like a clear idea of which traffic offenses are considered felonies, you have to remember that it varies by jurisdiction and state.
Down below are some of the most common traffic violations that most states and jurisdictions considered felonies:
- If you are convicted of multiple or repeated DUI violations
- If you’re caught involved in different types of reckless driving which includes racing and other violations that may cause injury to individuals and damage to property
- If you leave an accident scene wherein you caused injury and damage to property, and sometimes death
- If you keep on being convicted of other violations repeatedly (such as driving without a license
- If you are involved in a vehicular homicide and/or manslaughter
- If you try to flee from law enforcement
Note that there are some states wherein a traffic offense can be categorized as “aggravated” or “gross” misdemeanors. This only means that the offense may result in harsher penalties similar to those of felonies even if they are tagged as misdemeanors.
Don’t Be That Guy Or That Girl
Having a felony closes a lot of doors professionally. That might not seem like it’s fair, but it’s true. If you have to choose between two equally qualified individuals for a job, and one has a criminal conviction and the other doesn’t, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who’s the more likely candidate.
That’s not to say this is guaranteed, and if you really nail a job interview, you might even be able to win through on personality and charisma alone. But having that felony conviction DOES put you at a disadvantage that you have to compensate for right out of the gate.
Of course, the best way to avoid these problems is to not get in trouble in the first place. A DUI/DWI for instance, is already a pretty serious traffic violation. Do you REALLY need to keep drinking or doing drugs AND get into a car over and over again? What is it about your life that makes it impossible to not combine an altered state of consciousness and getting behind the wheel?
On the other hand, texting, shooting videos, or taking photos of yourself while driving is just dumb. Don’t do this.
Even if you’re in the car with your kid and your kid does something adorable, don’t take out the phone and start taking photos or shooting videos just so you can post it on Twitter or Facebook.
It’s not worth the risk to you, your kid, or the other people in other cars.
And if you want to know whether other people have criminal driving convictions, it’s the easiest thing in the world to find out.
Consequences of Traffic Felony
If you are convicted of a felony, you can be punished by a prison sentence of over a year.
Depending on the circumstances of your conviction and the jurisdiction that handles your case, felony charges can also include monetary fines that can range from five hundred to thousands of dollars. Note that jurisdictions with a “three strikes” felony rule may mean you get a life sentence in prison.
In addition to that, a traffic felony may negatively impact you as a driver in many ways, including the possible suspension and permanent loss of your driver’s license. Points will be added to your driver’s license history, too.
Furthermore, your insurance premiums will increase and you risk getting the car used in the felony towed and impounded.
Worse, you might lose your citizen’s privileges, including voting and/or being allowed to teach in a professional setting, and you’ll be prohibited from owning firearms. You’ll also get a permanent criminal record.
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