Though the crimes and punishments that fall into each category may vary by state, it’s important to understand what each category entails and what it could mean for you or a loved one.
Felonies are the most serious types of crimes that a person can be charged with, resulting in more serious punishments and longer jail time. Crimes that fall into this category can include murder, robbery, DUI, and domestic violence, among other offenses. If you are charged with a felony, the specific line of punishment you receive depends largely on your specific case. Felonies are typically divided according to whether people or property is threatened, and most states classify felonies as crimes that carry with them a minimum jail time sentence of more than one year. In some jurisdictions, a felony may be punishable by loss of voting rights; exclusion from purchase/possession of firearms, ammunition, and body armor; ineligibility to run for public office or serve on a jury; and, for severe crimes like murder, a guilty felon may receive the death sentence.
Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, carrying with them less severe punishments and oftentimes including a fine. Jail time typically is under a year, though cases can also be resolved with probation, community service, or treatment programs, depending on the crime and ruling. Similar to felonies, misdemeanors are divided depending on whether persons or property is threatened. Crimes against persons include assault, disorderly conduct, DUI, indecent exposure, and prostitution, among other crimes. Misdemeanors against property include theft, trespass, and vandalism. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, chances are high that you will retain most of your rights, including the ability to serve on a jury and vote.
An infraction is the least serious offense of the three categories. There is no jail time associated with an infraction; instead, punishment usually includes fines and, in some cases, points against your driving record. Types of this offense include jaywalking, speeding tickets, not wearing a seat belt, littering, and disturbing the peace. Infractions are also known as traffic misdemeanors and can be added to your driving record. You are issued a ticket with an infraction that details your rights as the accused and how to pay for your ticket, which you can either pay or dispute. If you do not perform any action by the ticket’s deadline, however, a default judgment can be ruled and your driving record may suffer. The best thing to do is to deal with them promptly.