What is the difference between an Infraction, a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

Although most people have heard of these terms, quite a few do not know the difference between the types of criminal charges. Which one of these three charges will be applied in your case depends upon the seriousness of your actions.

Types of Criminal Charges –
Infractions

For an Infraction, the punishment is the least harsh of the three possible charges and involves only fines. There is no jail time and no probation. Because an Infraction charge is not a criminal charge, you do not have the right to a trial by jury or to have an attorney. You can, however, have a judge decide the case. This is called a Bench Trial. The circumstances surrounding the infraction are generally cleared up fairly quickly with just a few appearances in court.

Types of Criminal Charges –
Misdemeanors

For a Misdemeanor, you are looking at fines, probation and a maximum of one year in the county jail. With a misdemeanor charge, even if there is no trial, it might be as long as a year before the situation can be cleared up. Because the punishment can have a serious negative impact on your life for a very long time, it is always wise to engage the services of a very experienced criminal defense attorney who can try to get the charge reduced down to an infraction.

Types of Criminal Charges –
Felonies

For a Felony, which is the most serious of the three charges, the punishment involves fines, a minimum of one year county jail or state prison, parole and probation. Because a Felony is such a serious charge, a defendant has the right to have an attorney and a trial by jury. Depending upon the particular circumstances in your case, a felony case can continue on for quite a long period of time.

Because certain behaviors and the circumstances surrounding a particular case can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony, they are called Wobbler charges. This means that they can go either way. It is up to the District Attorney to make the decision as to which charge should be used. Again, depending upon the specific circumstances of your case, an experienced criminal defense attorney might be able to get the felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor or might be able to avoid having the felony charged filed at all.

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