Criminal Speeding Tickets

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What is criminal speeding in Arizona?

In an nutshell, you can be charged with criminal speeding for driving more than 20 mph over the posted speed limit. There are technically 3 different criminal speeding violations in Arizona. It’s unclear why, because they all boil down to the same thing – driving more than 20 mph over the posted speed limit:

    • Exceed 35 mph in a school zone (28-701.02A1).
    • Exceed the posted speed limit in a business or residential district by more than 20 mph (28-701.02A2).
    • Exceed the posted speed limit by more than 20 mph in other locations (A.R.S. 28-701.02A3).

See A.R.S. 28-701.02(A) for the specific language of the law.

What are the penalties for a criminal speeding conviction in Arizona?

Possible Penalties:

  • Fines up to $500 plus surcharges and court assessments that could nearly double the total fine
  • Up to 30 days in jail. If there is jail, it is usually a day or two, and in cases where the alleged speed is very high, or the defendant has a history of criminal speeding. We most often see jail in city courts like Scottsdale City Court.
  • Up to 1 year probation

Likely Penalties:

  • Class 3 misdemeanor conviction.
  • Fines in the $300-$600 range
  • 3 points on Arizona driving record (and Arizona reports the conviction to other states)

Possible Collateral Consequences:

  • Increased insurance rates
  • Immigration issues
  • License suspension depending on the driver’s history and accumulation of points
  • Having to disclose a criminal conviction on job applications
  • Criminal speeding is considered a “serious violation” for CDL holders, even if it occurred in an non-CMV.

What’s the first thing you need to do after getting a criminal speeding ticket?

Make note of the Arraignment Date.  The arraignment date is the court date on your ticket. This date is usually a few weeks out, but can be much sooner. You (or your attorney) will need to take action with the court on or before that date. If you miss that court date, the court will note that you failed to appear, issue a bench warrant for your arrest, suspend your driving privileges, and may add a second criminal charge for failing to appear.

Possible Outcomes For A Criminal Speeding Ticket

Dismissal After Taking Defensive Driving School

Defensive driving school is the ideal way to resolve a criminal speeding ticket in Arizona because it results in the charge being dismissed. However, in a criminal speeding case this option is only available at the discretion of the judge. Some judges never allow defensive driving school, whereas other judges may allow it even if the alleged speed is 100 mph or more. A clean driving record can really help when making this request to the court.

Dismissal For Other Reasons

This is rare in criminal speeding cases because there is frequently evidence that the defendant was speeding, even if the actually speed fell short of criminal speeding. A prosecutor will at least want the defenant to plead to a civil speeding violation and pay a fine. Nevertheless, on occasion there is some irregularity or a failure of the State to follow the applicable rules that results in the case being dismissed. We are always on the lookout for such details that could result in a dismissal.

Reduction To A Civil Speeding Violation

If we cannot achieve defensive driving school or dismissal by some other means, then negotiating an outcome wherein the criminal charge is amended to a civil speeding charge is the next best outcome. There are two approaches we focus on when trying to negotiate a plea agreement to a civil speeding violation.

Legal Arguments

First, we try to create doubt as to whether our client actually committed the alleged violation. We look for errors or inconsistencies in the citing officer’s story, we look for errors in the speed measurement, and we also look for facts that would call into doubt the officer’s allegations. The goal is to convince the prosecutor that they would be unlikely to prevail at trial, and that offering a civil plea is a better use of resources than taking the matter to trial.

Personal Background

The second approach is to leverage notable details in our client’s background, such as work or school achievements, community involvement, volunteer work, commendations, letters of reference, or anything else that tends to show that our client is a peaceful, productive, and law-abiding citizen who should be given a break. Often, these personal details make a big difference in the outcome we are able to achieve.

Negotiation

After we have finished the discovery process, we may submit a written request to the prosecution asking the prosecution to deviate from the charge. In other words, we may ask them to offer a plea to something less, like a civil speeding ticket. This request will present all of the defendant’s good background details and ideally we can make a factual argument too.

Pleading Guilty To The Charge

If after a thorough investigation we are unable to uncover any information to refute the State’s allegations, and if we have been unable to negitiate a civil outcome, it may make sense to plead to the charge rather than spend the time and resources to go through a trial we will almost certainly lose, and where the consequences will be left to the judge rather than agreed upon in advance. However, if we have found information that calls into doubt the officer’s allegations, and we believe we can make a plausible argument, then we will take the case to trial.

Found Guilty Or Not Guilty After Trial

If we cannot achieve defensive driving diversion, a reduced plea, or a dismissal, two options remain: taking the case to trialor pleading to the violation. By the time we get to this decision point, we have all of the information that is available and that will be used at trial, so our client can make an informed decision on how to proceed.

At the conclusion of a trial, the judge will find the defendant either a guilty or a not-guilty. If the judge finds the defendant guilty, then the judge decides sentence or punishment. This can be risky in some courts where the judge may be inclined to impose harsher penalties than what might be agreed upon in a plea agreement.

If the judge finds the defendant not-guilty, then that’s excellent! The defendant has no criminal conviction, no fines, no points, and gets to walk away with a clean background.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the court process for a criminal speeding ticket?

Each case is unique and your specific circumstances will determine what may happen, but the basic sequence of a case is this:

1. Arraignment

The date on your ticket is the arraignment date.  This is when you, the defendant (or your attorney) appears before a judge and enters a plea of not guilty or not guilty.

2. Pretrial Conferences

A Pretrial conference is a meeting between the prosecutor and the defendant (or your attorney) to see if a resolution can be reached and to make sure the defendant is getting the information they need (discovery).

3. Discovery

Discovery just means information gathering. It involves requesting and reviewing evidence which may include reports, witness statements, video, radar or lidar calibrations, AVL data, and more.

4. Negotiation

Negotiation, which can include a deviation request, is essentially making an argument to the prosecution requesting a reduced charge based on the information uncovered during discovery and other mitigating details, such as the defendant’s driving record or background.

5. Resolution

This could involve a change of plea hearing if an agreement has been reached with the prosecution, or a trial.

How do cops prove you were speeding in court?

At a trial, the prosecution (the “state”) may present one or more of the following as proof or evidence of speeding:

A. Police officer testimony

The police officer will describe where and how he initially noticed the defendant. The police officer will likely testify that he visually estimated the driver’s speed to be xxx mph. The police officer will then testify how he measured the excessive speed – either by radar, lidar, vascar, or pace.

B. Radar/lidar/speedometer calibrations

The specifics of these documents vary, but in general something will be produced to say that the speed measurement device is accurate.

C. Certification of the officer to operate radar/lidar/vascar

This will be a document showing that the officer has training in the operation of the speed measurement device. Note, there is no certification for speed measurement by pace.

D. On-body camera video

This almost never shows the alleged excessive speeding. It may show the readout on a radar or lidar unit, but that is also rare. Most commonly, it shoes the actual traffic stop and the interaction between the defendant and the police officer.

E. Dash camera video

This is extremely rare now in Arizona. As you might imagine, dash camera is the most useful piece of evidence, so who knows why it is rarely used by police these days.

The bottom line is the State’s case is going to primarily rely on the oral testimony of the police officer who issued the excessive speed ticket. That may not sound like adequate “proof” for the State to win at a trial, but trust us, it is. In our experience, judges tend to find police officers very credible unless the defendant can produce something that shows otherwise.

How many points is criminal speeding in AZ?

Criminal speeding is a 3-point violation in Arizona. Even if you don’t have an Arizona driver license, the Arizona Department of Transportation will create a record for you and assign points. Then Arizona will make this information available to other states. The result is that an excessive speed conviction in Arizona may follow you to your home state. 

Keep in mind each state has its own points systems, and they can differ substantially.

Will I have to appear in court?

If you hire an attorney, your attorney can often attend the pretrial conferences without you. Some courts require that a defendant attend pretrial conferences, but this is the exception rather than the rule. We represent many clients from out-of-state who never return to Arizona or attend court. You can discuss whether or not your presence is necessary with your attorney. If your case goes to trial, you will almost certainly need to attend the trial in person.

What if I don't live in Arizona?

Most courts will let you appear by telephone for court appearances other than a trial. Some courts may require you to make this request in writing, others do not. If you live out of state, call the court and ask them about their policies regarding telephonic appearances. If you have an attorney, your attorney can take care of this. If your case ends up going to trial, you will need to come back to Arizona for the trial. If your case is resolved without going to trial, you probably won’t need to physically return to Arizona.

How long does an excessive speed case take?

Three to four months is usually a good estimate of time. Most courts want the case either resolved by a plea agreement or set for trial after about 3 pretrial conferences. Pretrial conferences are usually about 30 days apart.

Will a criminal speeding ticket affect my job?

This will of course depend on your job, but for the vast majority of people, the answer is no. We frequently represent clients who are required to undergo background checks as part of their job, or who hold security clearances, or who have professional licenses (like attorneys or doctors), and a criminal speeding conviction probably won’t derail your career. However, a criminal speeding conviction will likely require an explanation, and it is always ideal to avoid having to make that explanation.

For some jobs though, a criminal speeding conviction is devastating. For example, for some commercial drivers such a violation could end their employment.

If you are concerned about how a criminal speeding ticket might impact your job, you may want to review your company’s policies regarding criminal convictions and consult an attorney about your specific situation.

Will a criminal conviction affect my immigration status?

Maybe. We always advise our clients to consult with an immigration attorney to get a definitive answer to this question. Keep in mind though that criminal speeding is not like assault, fraud, theft, burglary or any crime that involves a victim. Also, it does not involve alcohol, drugs, violence or guns, all of which will create major problems for immigration.

In another post, we discuss potential immigration consequences with immigration attorney Jessica Cadavid.

Is criminal speeding a felony in Arizona?

No. It is a class 3 misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is far less serious than a felony. A felony involves the potential for prison time, and the loss of certain rights like the right to vote or own a firearm. A misdemeanor conviction will not deprive you of any rights.

Can you get arrested for criminal speeding in Arizona?

Yes, anyone who has received a criminal speeding ticket in Arizona has technically been arrested. In Arizona, criminal speeding is a misdemeanor criminal violation. Even though you may not be taken to jail if you receive the ticket, you have technically been arrested if you were ticketed for excessive speed.

Most criminal traffic tickets are “cite and release”, or “cite in lieu of detention”. This means that that the driver is technically arrested, issued a criminal complaint (ticket), and then released because they promise to appear in court on a future date.

Alternatively, depending on how fast you are going and the police officer’s mood, the officer may actually handcuff you, put you in the back of his vehicle, and book you into jail. We do see this happen from time to time.

Can I set aside or expunge a criminal speeding conviction?

Arizona only permits expungement in limited circumstances. Criminal speeding is not one of those circumstances.

The answer to “can you set aside a criminal speed conviction” is “there is a good chance you can.” See our page about setting aside convictions for more details.

Arizona now has a pathway to “seal” the records related to a criminal speeding conviction. This is not the same as an expungement, but it comes close. You can read more about sealing of criminal records here.

Do I need an attorney for a criminal speeding ticket?

If you want an attorney, sooner is better than later. Most courts will only allow a case to go on for so long. If you delay on hiring an attorney, your attorney may not have time to fully investigate your case.

An experienced attorney can be really helpful for several reasons:

  • They will be familiar with the court and the judge handling your ticket. We’ve appeared in over 160 different courts around Arizona.
  • They will have a good working relationship with the prosecuting attorney. We have seen other criminal defense attorneys get shut down because the prosecuting attorney disliked them. This is especially important when we are trying to negotiate an improved outcome by taking advantage of our client’s character and background, and we don’t have a legal argument.
  • Tney will know what to look for in your case and how to get that information from the prosecution.
  • An attorney can be a valuable intermediary in your case, a buffer between the defendant and the prosecution. Right or wrong, prosecuting attorneys often don’t want to deal with self-represented defendants, but they may be more open to working with an attorney that they have a good working relationship with.

Additionally, whether or not you want an attorney may depend on how comfortable you are with the court process. Some things to consider:

  • Are you comfortable speaking with a prosecutor, or a judge in open court?
  • How do you feel about interviewing the officer who gave you the ticket? What would you ask him or her?
  • Are you comfortable that you will be able to get the information you need for your case from the prosecution?

This is my first criminal speeding ticket. Does that matter?

Not having any prior criminal speeding tickets is definitely helpful in achieving a good outcome. Prior speeding tickets can make a prosecuting attorney unwilling to negotiate, or a judge unwilling to offer defnsive driving school as a resolution. The more recent the prior tickets, the more they will matter.

The other major factor is going to be the alleged speed on the ticket. If you have no prior tickets, and the alleged speed is 90 in a posted 65, for example, the chances of a non-criminal resolution are high. On the other end of the spectrum, if the alleged speed is 140 in a 65, the fact that this is your first ticket isn’t going to make much difference. 

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