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Traffic violations somehow seem to find a way to be the scourge of the lives of everyday North Carolinians. If you are fighting a traffic violation, the penalties  can seem daunting and sometimes unnecessary. 

In this post, we will discuss how the North Carolina court system determines the severity of your offense and thus your penalty.

Discussion of how the North Carolina court system categorizes your traffic offense starts with first understanding the categories of these offenses. Each category has a strict definition and threshold that will be explained. 

Furthermore, we will discuss the factors that judges take into consideration that may escalate the severity of your offense.

The Types of Traffic Violations in North Carolina

Driving-related offenses may be categorized as one of the following:

  • Infractions
  • Misdemeanors
  • Felonies


An infraction is defined as an act that is prohibited by law but is not a crime. Infractions, also known as violations or civil infractions, include:

  • Speeding 
  • Failing to stop or yield
  • Failing to signal
  • Lack of proper lighting while operating a vehicle
  • Seat belt violations

If you are convicted of an infraction, the least serious traffic offense, it will likely not result in jail time. They may, however, include a fine, traffic school, or demerit points on your driving record.

Criminal Traffic Offenses – Misdemeanors and Felonies

A traffic offense is considered a crime if it is punishable by imprisonment. Criminal traffic offenses can be classified as misdemeanors or felonies. They include:

There are further differences between misdemeanors versus felonies to understand. 

If you are fighting a criminal traffic offense, you will likely be required to appear personally in court. During your appearance, the judge will advise you of your charges, penalties, and constitutional rights

If convicted of a misdemeanor, you may face a maximum sentence of one year in county jail. Felonies may carry a sentence of more than one year in state prison. 

In addition to jail time, you may incur other penalties, including:

  • Community service
  • Suspension or revocation of your license
  • Vehicle impoundment
  • Assignment of demerit points to your driving record

How the Severity of Your Offense May Be Escalated by the Court

Because your offense is unique in its circumstances, your infraction may be elevated to the status of a criminal offense if certain thresholds are reached. For example, a speeding ticket may classify as a misdemeanor if the speed limit is broken by an excessive amount. 

Furthermore, a court may also elevate your offense that would generally be classified as a misdemeanor to a felony if:

  • There is a prior history of repeated offense
  • The offense involves property damage, injuries, or death

Missing Your Court Date May Escalate Your Situation

If you do not appear in court, and you have not waived a ticket, your case will be denoted “called and failed.” You may be able to reschedule for a new court date with the clerk of court’s office; however, this is not applicable if an arrest was ordered.

20 days after a missed court date without rescheduling, a Failure to Appear will be issued against you, and you may incur an additional failure to appear (FTA) fee. If you display proof of the reason for missing court, a Failure to Appear may be struck by a judge, your fees canceled, and a new court date assigned.

If 20 days after a Failure to Appear is given and you have not resolved your case for whatever reason, the court will notify the North Carolina DMV. The DMV will suspend your driver’s license indefinitely until you settle your case. You may avoid this suspension if you resolve the case before the suspension goes into effect.

Greensboro Traffic Violations Lawyer

The advice and help of a North Carolina attorney who specializes in traffic law may be able to offer a deeper understanding and answer more of your questions.

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