Traffic offenses are typically civil infractions and misdemeanors. Most traffic cases are civil infractions. This means that you were observed by a police officer doing something that is prohibited by the Michigan vehicle code. Offenses that fall under civil infractions can be things such as speeding, improper turn, improper lane change, disobeying a traffic control device or driving without a seat belt. If you receive a citation you have the choice of either paying the fine or contesting the fine in a informal or formal hearing. If you choose an informal hearing it will be with a Magistrate. The only people present will be you and the officer that issued the citation, attorneys are not allowed in an informal hearing. If you decide to hire an attorney the case will be converted to a formal hearing. The Judge or Magistrate has no authority to reduce the offense to a lower offense. A formal hearing requires a negotiation with the prosecutor before the case is set for trial with a Judge or Magistrate. Having an attorney at a formal hearing can help your case since prosecutors are reluctant to take a traffic case to trial and waste precious man hours over what typically amounts to a couple hundred dollars.
There are some traffic offenses that are classified as misdemeanors. Driving under the influence, driving on a suspended license, no proof of insurance, and even failure to have a license on your person are all misdemeanors. Because these offenses do not carry jail time the court does not have to appoint an attorney for you. Misdemeanor traffic offenses also carry with them driver responsibility fees that must be paid to the State of Michigan or your driving privileges will be suspended. These cases are especially dangerous to a driver because they show up on a criminal background checks. Having an attorney represent you is imperative if you want a chance at keeping a misdemeanor off your criminal record.