There are three categories of charges that people can face. Each category is defined by the seriousness of the offense and the type of punishment that is attached to the offense. The categories of charges are infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. Infractions are minor civil violations; misdemeanors are more serious than infractions, while felonies are the most serious offenses. Capital crimes are felonies that are considered to be truly heinous by the law and often carry the death penalty.
Infractions are minor offenses that usually involve the violation of a municipal code, a state or local traffic rule, an ordinance or an administrative regulation. Infractions are civil, rather than criminal offenses, and do not carry any jail time or probation. The typical punishment for infractions is the payment of fines as determined by the jurisdiction where the infraction occurred. Infractions do not appear on the record of the offender. For example, simple speeding tickets are infractions that do not appear on the driving record of the offender.
Types of Infractions
The common types of infractions include failing to stop properly at a stop sign, littering, seat belt violations and driving without liability insurance. Other types of infractions are jaywalking, building code violations and disturbing the peace. Anyone charged with an infraction has fewer rights than those charged with misdemeanors or felonies. For example, there is no option of a jury trial. The accused will have the option of paying a fine or appearing before a judge to fight the allegation.
Misdemeanors are criminal offenses that carry a sentence that does not exceed one year. Misdemeanors are more serious than infractions and may result in the imposition of heavy fines. Anyone convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to jail will serve the jail term in a county or local jail, rather than a state or federal prison. Unlike infractions, defendants in misdemeanor cases have a right to a trial by jury.
Types of Misdemeanors
The common types of misdemeanors include DUI, breach of the peace, trespassing, prostitution, assault and battery, vandalism and resisting arrest. Some offenses are considered “wobbler” offenses because they may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The determining factors are the circumstances and the skill of the attorney handling the case. Some misdemeanors have mandatory minimum punishments. In California, a third DUI carries a mandatory minimum of 120 days in jail.