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What are infractions, misdemeanors and felonies?

Crimes are usually categorized into infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. Infractions, which include fines or traffic tickets, are not even usually considered crimes -- certainly, society does not see these actions as criminal in nature. Misdemeanors are considered criminal in nature, but they are usually less serious than felonies and come with less severe consequences.

When infractions occur and a law enforcement officer observes them, he or she writes the person a ticket. The person can pay the ticket at a local court or go to a scheduled hearing to dispute the ticket. Common infractions include running a traffic light, speeding, jaywalking and parking in no-parking areas. In some states, even minor drug violations are considered infractions. While it's rare for someone to serve jail time with regard to infractions, letting tickets stack up without making payment of fines could result in more serious consequences.

The category of misdemeanors usually includes all crimes that come with a sentence of up to one year in jail if conviction occurs. In some states, a crime is a misdemeanor if it doesn't involve either of the other two categories. Many times, someone convicted of a misdemeanor serves time in a local jail instead of a high-security state prison. Because misdemeanors are generally considered less serious than felonies, prosecutors often have more leeway in bargaining, which can be an advantage for someone charged with such crimes.

Consequences associated with felonies usually include sentences of more than one year. Because the crimes are considered serious and the consequences are steep, court room procedure during a felony-related case is usually strictly observed. Understanding this procedure and how it impacts a criminal defense is essential to increasing the chances of a successful outcome.

Source: FindLaw, "What Distinguishes a Misdemeanor From a Felony?," accessed June 26, 2015

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