LEGALESE — I Can Go To Jail for What???

handcufffs-336x252In Georgia, a traffic violation is considered a misdemeanor, albeit a very minor one.  You have broken the law, and so Georgia calls any violation of the law a criminal act.  For the vast majority of traffic offenses, jail time is indeed possible.  Most people don’t expect to go to jail for your garden variety speeding ticket and, in fact, the vast majority of people don’t in fact go to jail for your garden variety speeding ticket.

You’d be hard pressed to find someone over the age of, say, 40, who has never gotten a traffic ticket.  Yet most of those same people, if asked, would also say in complete honesty that they’ve never been convicted of a crime.  While true in most contexts except the most semantic and legalistic, they may not even be aware that they have escaped jail.

Indeed, jail is supposed to be, both legally and morally, for people who are likely to harm society in some way if they are not incarcerated.  Whether or not we hit that mark as a society is open to debate, however, the law has something specific to say on the matter.  O.C.G.A. §42-8-102 says that someone should be put on probation instead of being incarcerated “[i]f it appears to the court upon a hearing of the matter that the defendant is not likely to engage in an unlawful course of conduct and that the ends of justice and the welfare of society do not require that the defendant shall presently suffer the penalty imposed by law.”  In other words, if the court determines that no one is in danger and you’re not a huge risk to reoffend, you shouldn’t go to jail.

If you are on probation, you could be required to pay fines or fees.  You could also be required to pay a probation supervision fee, all of which can potentially be converted to community service.  When assessing fines other than restitution, the court may (but doesn’t have to) consider

  1. Your financial resources, including your assets. (You can’t drive a $60,000.00 car and live in a half million dollar house, for example, and then say you can’t afford a $250 traffic ticket.)
  2. Your earnings and other income.
  3. Your financial obligations, including your obligations to your dependents. ($50,000.00 may sound like a good salary, but if you have 12 kids and you are taking care of your impoverished, elderly parents it isn’t going to go very far.)
  4. The period of time during which the probation order will be in effect. (Paying $500.00 in one lump sum is difficult for a lot of people – paying it out over a year may not be.)
  5. The goal of the punishment being imposed. (Some fines are a mere nuisance – some are designed to hurt when they come out of your pocketbook, so that you know for sure they aren’t worth it if you consider doing that action again.)
  6. “Any other factor the court deems appropriate.” This can be anything, and each judge has his or her own personal quirks.  For example, if you are wearing $150.00 sneakers, you’d better not be telling me you can’t pay a $200.00 fine.

Fines and fees can be waived or converted to community service if the Court determines that it would create a financial hardship.

People think of probation as something in a different category than jail, but really it’s an alternative to jail.  That’s why if you fail on probation by not doing what you are supposed to do, you can go to jail.  For my discussion about whether or not you can go to jail for not paying your fines, click or tap here.

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.  It is being offered for informational purposes only.  No lawyer can advise you about your case without hearing the particulars of your situation.


About Lori Duff 352 Articles
Lori is the author of the bestselling collection of humor essays, "Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza" currently available exclusively on Amazon. In order to finance her writing habit, she is a practicing lawyer with Jones & Duff, LLC. She is married to Mike Duff, who is a retired DeKalb County Public Safety Officer, and has two amazing children who make cameo embarrassing appearances in her blog posts and who attend Walton County Public Schools. Her legal column, "Legalese", is meant to de-mystify and humanize the Court system. When asked about her writing, Lori says, "Life is too short not to laugh at every available opportunity. My goal is to make myself laugh -- and hopefully you will laugh along with me."

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