A civil infraction is a non-criminal violation of a rule or ordinance that usually results in a fine or fee. There are many types of civil infractions, which can vary widely by jurisdiction. Civil infractions rarely carry jail sentences or require a jury trial, however failure to pay a citation for a civil infraction can result in more serious consequences and higher fines.
Many traffic citations are considered infractions rather than crimes. Speeding, for instance, is violation of an ordinance, making it an infraction, while driving drunk is usually a violation of a law and may be considered a crime. Other traffic infractions include not wearing seat belts, failure to give the right of way, parking violations, or using a carpool lane incorrectly. It is important to remember that what is considered an infraction in some regions may actually be a misdemeanor crime in others. Obeying traffic laws and driving safely is a good way to avoid ever having to be charged with either an infraction or a traffic-related crime.
A municipal civil infraction can occur when a person violates a local ordinance, such as a no smoking in public spaces law. There are dozens of municipal infractions, generally quite specific to each area. If moving to a new area, it may be a good idea to look up local ordinances before getting into any trouble.
Some infractions relate to the proper use of public areas. In lakes, for instance, people may only be allowed to use certain boats or fish at a certain time of year. Parks may have ordinances that protect against littering, or prevent people from drinking alcohol or throwing informal concerts or performances without permission. Failure to follow these rules may result in a fine or expulsion from the area.
Civil infractions may even affect behavior in the home or residence of a citizen. Some areas, for instance, have specific rules regarding how many animals or what kind a person may keep on his or her property. In some regions, it's forbidden to own roosters, as their early-morning crows can be considered a nuisance by neighbors. Being found in violation of animal-related civil infractions may result in a fine and surrender of the animals.
Generally, a person given a citation for a civil infraction must pay a fine to the local courthouse. Those who wish to dispute the case are usually granted a brief court appearance to plead their case to a local judge. Failure to pay fines or appear in court can lead to a major increase in the fine, as well as license suspension and other penalties.
There is a long and amusing history of wacky ordinances throughout the world that cause a variety of strange civil infractions. In Hollywood, it is an infraction to drive more than 2000 sheep down Hollywood Boulevard at once, to the great relief of tourists and celebrities. A city ordinance in Everett, Washington makes it illegal to put a hypnotized person in a display window. Whether or not these ordinances have ever been violated is unknown.