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.
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 video 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. There are verification services available, and we’re affiliated with them that can quickly allow you to check up anyone’s driving record at all to see how clean they are.
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