Conviction for a traffic offense can have consequences even though these are usually considered comparatively minor crimes in Georgia. Anyone facing a prosecution for traffic violations should be aware of their rights and options.
Most violations are classified as misdemeanors, which may be heard in a county probate court, state court, magistrate court or municipal court in Georgia. Juvenile courts adjudicate cases involving drivers under 16 years of age. Police officers may present evidence and drivers or their attorneys can cross-examine them. Drivers also have the right to testify, present other witness testimony and submit other evidence. Court decisions may be appealed to the state’s superior courts.
If a person pleads or is found guilty, they face a range of penalties, depending on the offense. Their license may be suspended, for example, for fraudulent use of an operator’s license, fleeing from a police officer, failure to appear in traffic court as ordered, racing, failure to pay for gasoline, operating a vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol, accumulating a specific number of points, failure to pay court-ordered child support and driving without insurance. Judges may order guilty drivers to attend driver training or drug and alcohol abuse training courses.
Also, points are assigned each time a driver is convicted of a traffic offense, which are determined by the seriousness of the violation. Once a driver accumulates at least 15 points during a 24-month period, their license will be suspended or revoked. Drivers under 21 years of age may have their license suspended if four points are accumulated and operators under 18 years of age face this penalty for four points levied during a 12-month period.
More serious traffic offenses are classified as felonies and tried in a superior court. These include vehicular homicide, serious injury by vehicle and habitual violations. These have higher penalties, including longer periods of license suspension.
Despite their rights, many drivers plead guilty to relatively minor traffic offenses because they believe that the court will unquestionably accept the police officer’s testimony. Although drivers can appear in court without an attorney, they may legal options to make sure that their rights are protected in these prosecutions. This is especially important in prosecutions for felony traffic crimes.