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What is the Difference Between Felony, Misdemeanor, and Infraction?

Within criminal law, there are three main categories of offenses, so what is the difference between felony, misdemeanor, and infraction? The differences lie in the severity of the crime and the potential consequences if convicted.

Understanding the key distinctions between these categories is crucial because they have significant implications for both defendants and the criminal justice system.

Felony: The Most Serious Offense

A felony is the most severe category of crime in California. It encompasses crimes that are considered particularly heinous or pose a significant threat to public safety. Felonies are often associated with more severe punishments, including lengthy prison sentences and substantial fines.

Some common examples of felony offenses include:

  • Murder: Taking someone’s life with premeditation or extreme recklessness.
  • Robbery: Using force or the threat of force to steal property from someone.
  • Burglary: Illegally entering a building with the intent to commit theft or another crime inside.
  • Kidnapping: Abducting someone against their will, often with malicious intent.
  • Drug Trafficking: Selling or distributing large quantities of controlled substances.

If convicted of a felony, you may face serious consequences such as imprisonment for a minimum of one year, loss of certain civil rights (like voting and gun ownership), and a permanent criminal record.

Felony convictions also can significantly impact your future, making it challenging to find employment or secure housing.

Misdemeanor: Lesser Crimes, Lesser Penalties

Misdemeanors are less serious offenses than felonies but still carry substantial legal consequences. These crimes are typically punishable by shorter jail sentences, probation, fines, or a combination of these penalties.

Some examples of misdemeanor offenses in California include:

  • Petty Theft: Stealing property valued at less than $950.
  • Simple Assault: Inflicting minor injuries or threatening someone with harm.
  • DUI (Driving Under the Influence): Operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration exceeding the legal limit.
  • Vandalism: Causing property damage, such as graffiti, valued at less than $400.

A misdemeanor conviction can lead to up to a year in county jail, fines, probation, community service, or counseling.

While the consequences are less severe than felonies, a misdemeanor conviction can still have lasting impacts on your life, including damage to your reputation and employment prospects.

Infraction: The Lowest Level of Offense

Infractions are the least serious category of offenses in California’s legal system. These offenses are often referred to as “non-criminal” and are typically associated with minor violations of the law. Infractions are subject to civil penalties, such as fines, rather than imprisonment.

Common examples of infractions include:

  • Traffic Violations: Running a red light, speeding, or parking in a restricted area.
  • Jaywalking: Crossing the street illegally.
  • Littering: Disposing of trash improperly.

The consequences for infractions typically involve paying a fine, and in some cases, attending traffic school or performing community service.

Unlike felonies and misdemeanors, infractions do not result in a criminal record. However, they can still have financial implications and may lead to increased insurance premiums for certain traffic violations.

What is the Difference Between Felony, Misdemeanor, and Infraction in Sentencing?

One of the most significant differences between these three categories of offenses in California is the potential sentencing upon conviction.

Felony Sentencing

Felony convictions can result in substantial prison sentences, ranging from one year to life imprisonment, depending on the crime’s severity and any prior criminal history. Fines can also be significant, often reaching thousands or even millions of dollars.

Misdemeanor Sentencing

Misdemeanors are generally punishable by up to one year in county jail, fines, probation, community service, or a combination of these penalties. The fines are typically less severe than those for felonies.

Infraction Sentencing

Infractions typically lead to civil penalties in the form of fines, with no jail time involved. The fines for infractions are generally lower than those for misdemeanors and significantly lower than felony fines.

Are You Facing Criminal Charges?

With the complex differences between felony, misdemeanor, and infraction charges, it’s crucial to seek legal representation from an experienced California criminal defense attorney if you or someone you know is facing criminal charges.

Mark Broughton is a criminal defense lawyer in Fresno with 40+ years of experience, and he will fight to get you the best possible outcome. He sees every individual’s situation with compassion and empathy. And he believes that every person has the right to a fair trial and is innocent until proven guilty.

If you are facing criminal charges, call 559-691-6222 or click here to request a free consultation. We’ll get back to you right away.

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Disclaimer: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information.