United States District Court Violation Notices – a Dangerous Trap for the Uninformed
People who commit minor offenses on federal property (such as parks, beaches, government buildings, or national monuments) sometimes receive United States District Court Violation Notices. These notices look a bit like traffic tickets or criminal summonses (see links below). They typically list the offense charged and the date and time of the offense. They also usually offer the option to pay a fine through the mail or request an appearance in court. Many people elect to simply pay the fine through the mail because they think it is harmless to do so. (And, the arresting officers usually tell them that it’s no big deal and they should just pay the fine). However, most of the time, pleading guilty through the mail actually constitutes a guilty plea to a crime that will show up on a background check. These offenses are typically misdemeanors and the records of conviction are publicly available through the federal Central Violations Bureau. Those convicted of a federal petty offense have to respond “yes” to the question as to whether they have been convicted of a crime, and of course those professionals with employment-related licenses may be obligated to report these convictions to their certification boards. See the links below to a typical violation notice:
In short, people who receive these offenses should probably not take legal advice from their arresting officers and plead guilty by mail. They should instead retain an attorney to discuss their legal options. The most obvious legal option is to request a court date in federal court and bring an attorney to represent them. Their attorney may be able to negotiate a disposition to the matter – such as an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal – that will permit the defendant to resolve the case with a criminal conviction. These cases can also ultimately be tried on the merits as well. Generally, these are bench trials conducted by a magistrate (meaning that there is no right for a defendant to have a jury to decide a case at this level), but otherwise the same procedures and rules of evidence apply to this sort of trial as it would to a felony offense.
Mr. Galluzzo of the Law Office of Matthew Galluzzo PLLC is an experienced criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor who has represented numerous people charged with federal misdemeanors. If you have received a notice for a federal petty offense, you should strongly consider retaining his services to achieve the best possible result for yourself.