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Under French penal law, a "minor offence" is the least serious category of offences, punishable by a fine of less than 3,000€. These types of offence are governed by the provisions of the French Constitution of 1958 concerning minor offences, as well as by the French Penal Code, and are determined by decree of the Council of State. As such, minor offences form part of the regulatory system and are not therefore legal in nature (i.e. part of the legal system).
The vast majority of minor offences are road traffic offences and the associated penalties and fines are issued by an enforcement officer, who is responsible for recording the occurrence of an offence by the offending party (known as the "offender" in this case). The offender is then given a penalty notice, detailing the fine due for each offence as set out in the regulations. The size of the fine varies according to the severity of the offence (e.g. illegal parking or stopping, failure to stop at traffic lights or comply with road signs, etc). Offences are divided into five categories, which determine the size of the fine payable. Fines range from a maximum of 38€ for category one offences, up to a maximum of 1,500€ for category five offences (and up to 3,000€ for repeat offending, which is classed as a crime rather than an offence).
The police court or local magistrates' court has jurisdiction over so-called "minor offence" cases involving individuals, corporate entities and the police. Minor offences cannot lead to imprisonment, except in the event of repeat offending or aggravated consequences. In such cases, the offence is considered a crime rather than a minor offence.
Since 23 May 2011, public authorities have been equipped with electronic devices which are used to record such offences and transmit this information remotely to the Centre National de Traitement (CNT - national processing centre). Using the vehicle registration number database, the registered keeper of the vehicle is automatically issued an offence notice to his/her home address. The traditional paper penalty notice is no longer issued. Instead, a simple informative notice is placed on the vehicle's windscreen.
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