If you are facing criminal charges on any level (an infraction, misdemeanor or felony) you might be curious about what the differences are between the three levels. This post from FindLaw explains what each means and gives examples of the types of crimes that fall under each. Check it out below.
What Distinguishes a Misdemeanor From a Felony?
Most criminal systems for states across the United States divide
their crimes into several different categories depending on how serious
they are. This categorization determines how the court system treats a
particular case, so it is important to understand the differences. As a
general rule, however, these crimes are differentiated by how much
potential jail time (if any) an offender could face.
Infractions: Tickets and Fines
In general, these are the least serious type of crime. Typically, a
police officer will see someone doing something wrong, write a ticket
and hand it to the person. The person then has to pay a fine.
Infractions usually involve little to no time in court (much less jail),
and include things like traffic tickets, jaywalking, and some minor
drug possession charges in some states. However, if infractions remain
unaddressed or unpaid, the law typically provides for an increasing
range of fines and potential penalties.
Misdemeanor vs. Felony Offenses
Misdemeanors are more serious than infractions. They are usually
defined as a crime which is punishable by up to a year in jail time.
Sometimes that jail time is served in a local county jail instead of a
high security prison. Other states define a misdemeanor as a crime that
is not a felony or an infraction. Prosecutors generally have a great
degree of flexibility in deciding what crimes to charge, how to punish
them, and what kinds of plea bargains to negotiate.
Felonies are the most serious types of crimes. They are usually defined
by the fact that they are punishable by prison sentences of greater
than one year. Since the punishments can be so severe, court room
procedure must be strictly observed so that the defendants’ rights stay
protected. Felonies are usually crimes that are viewed severely by
society, and include crimes such as murder, rape, burglary, kidnapping,
or arson. However, felonies can also be punished in a range of ways so
that the punishment matches the severity of the crime.
For more information about crimes and the criminal process, check out FindLaw.com’s section on Criminal Law.