Some traffic court violations always start out in court as a Misdemeanor charge, but can be reduced to infractions by the court.
In many California failure to appear cases on traffic tickets involving Vehicle Code sec. 40508(a), which is also known as “40508a vc” on traffic tickets, it is not clear to defendants whether they are charged with a “Misdemeanor”, or the less serious “Infraction” version of a failure to appear violation. And that can be a problem when it is time to enter a plea.
Sometimes, after the case is over, the Department of Motor Vehicles will get it wrong, and list the case as a misdemeanor conviction on a driver’s history report, when in fact it was not a misdemeanor. Maybe it was treated as an infraction by the court, even though the statute says it is a misdemeanor, and the DMV got it wrong? How can you know for sure?
Getting a clear record of a case from the court when a 40508a vc case ends can protect a driver from this messy problem.
The details of the problem are these:
|There is a big difference between a Misdemeanor Conviction and Infraction Violation. Misdemeanors, including Vehicle Code section 40508(a) are real crimes that have a maximum penalty of up to 6 mos or one year in the county jail. Misdemeanors show up on background and criminal records checks as criminal convictions.|| |
Infractions are much less serious. They are not considered crimes, and carry only a fine as the maximum sentence. They do not appear on criminal records / pre employment screenings. You do not have a right to a jury trial on an infraction, and the court will not appoint the public defender to help you.
Some Vehicle Code violations, such as a failure to appear in court (Vehicle Code section 40508a), and driving without a valid license (Vehicle Code section 12500a) always start out as a misdemeanor charge, but can be reduced to an infraction by the court when a defendant pleads guilty or no contest.
Many traffic court commissioners and judges will routinely reduce a failure to appear charge under 40508a from a misdemeanor to an infraction if a defendant shows up in court voluntarily and resolves their case efficiently but pleading guilty or no contest. But they may not make it clear to you or clear on the record unless you ask.
When a misdemeanor failure to appear charge is reduced to an infraction by a traffic court, the penalty is generally a simple fine. The court’s record of the case is changed from a pending case with a Vehicle Code section 40508a Misdemeanor charge, to list a conviction of a Vehicle Code section 40508a “Infraction”. The case number and the vehicle code violation number (the statute) are the same. On a DMV record, both may show up as 40508a vc violations. But the classification is very different..
If a driver does not have proof that the court reduced the misdemeanor to an infraction after a case ends, getting a misdemeanor conviction removed from DMV records can be a nightmare.
But if the driver gets a clear record of the conviction on a court abstract at the time the case ends, or proof it was dismissed, the problem can be cleared quickly. All the driver has to do is take the court abstract to a DMV office.
Unfortunately, a common and serious mistake made by people in traffic court is that they fail to clarify whether or not they are being convicted of an infraction or a misdemeanor while in court.
So here is our Newest Traffic Court Self Help Tip: If you are going to court on a failure to appear charge, get a clear record of the violations you are convicted of when the case is over. Keep copies of the paperwork in a safe place.
If you are not sure if you are being convicted of an infraction or a misdemeanor, ask the judge to clarify it. Ask for a final “minute order” from the court clerk. It’s your right to know for certain. Get proof and check to make sure DMV and others have it right!
Contact the DMV Driver Safety Office near you for details on what they have listed on your record.
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