If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime, facing the criminal justice system can be daunting. To navigate this difficult time, one of the most important steps you can take is to understand the criminal charges that have been made and know their potential consequences.
The court system has several different categories for crime, usually based on severity. There are three main classifications: Infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. All three categories have subtle distinctions. Here, we’ll list the main differences between infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies:
The least serious types of crimes are called infractions. Infractions are fairly common: In fact, since they include traffic tickets, noise violations and other minor ordinance violations, many people will be commit infractions in their lifetime. Usually these do not have severe legal consequences, but they do have fines and penalties that will increase over time if not properly addressed.
The next step up from an infraction is called a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are frequently punished with a hefty fine, probation, community service, or up to year in jail. Misdemeanor jail sentences are usually served in a local jail rather than a high-security prison. In some states, misdemeanors are simply crimes that are classified as neither an infraction nor a felony.
Felonies are the most severe crimes—typically, crimes that can be punished with extensive jail sentences. Although felonies often include violent crimes like homicide, assault, and rape, felony charges can also be leveled against nonviolent offenses like drug possession. The severity of the punishment for a felony conviction typically depends on the severity of the crime. Felony charges can have many more consequences than just jail time: They can also negatively impact your job opportunities, housing options and reputation. Because felonies are so serious, it is crucial that defendants have adequate legal counsel to defend their rights in court.