Explaining the Differences Between Felonies & Misdemeanors

Legal definitions can get pretty complicated and convoluted. Thankfully, for the most part, the average person who has not dedicated their career to laws and regulations do not have to worry about them too much. There are three, however, in the realm of criminal defense that everyone should know, for they might one day affect your freedom.

Infractions, Misdemeanors & Felonies

When you are accused of a criminal violation, at some point or another, you should be told by law enforcement that they believe you have committed an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony. But what do any of those terms mean? You won't be given a detailed explanation so it helps to have the information ahead of time, allowing you to know what you are up against.

  1. Infraction: An illegal or unlawful activity that is arguably minor and has not caused considerable harm or damage will likely be categorized as an infraction, which is sometimes called just a violation. Infractions cannot punish you with any jail time so you do not get the right to a jury trial or a court-appointed attorney to defend yourself against them; you can hire your own criminal defense lawyer, though, which is pretty smart since the state likely won't even have a prosecutor at any hearing you arrange. The most common kind of infraction are traffic tickets and parking citations.
  2. Misdemeanors: Moving up the scale of severity, misdemeanors are criminal actions that are clearly more serious than infractions but did not cause widespread or irreversible harm. By definition, a misdemeanor in nearly-all cases cannot include a jail sentence that exceeds 364 days, meaning you won't spend a year or more behind bars due to misdemeanor charges. Financial penalties for misdemeanors rarely exceed $2,500. An example of a commonly-occurring misdemeanor across the country is a first-time DUI.
  3. Felonies: The most serious and harshly punished criminal offenses, felonies are generally considered to be particularly harmful to a victim's health or wellbeing, negatively impact a number of people, or break several laws across multiple states or international borders. Felonies will scale in degrees depending on the perceived intensity of the criminal act. While imprisonment is not guaranteed in sentencing, it is common for a felony to include one or two years in prison; furthermore, felonies can be penalized by the heaviest sentences in the legal system, including life imprisonment without parole or capital punishment. Murder and fraud are recognizable examples of felonies.

Now that you know the key differences and similarities between the three scales of criminal violations, you can better understand the gravity of the situation if you have been arrested and charged. For the powerful protection you expect and deserve for your case in Southern California, contact the Law Offices of Frances Prizzia by calling 888.392.8114 or use a free online case evaluation form to tell our Orange County criminal defense attorney what happened now.