Differentiating Felonies from Infractions and Misdemeanors

person in handcuffs

Having to face the law is never easy, even more so if you’re faced with a criminal charge for something you didn’t do or didn’t know you were doing. It could leave you like a deer caught in the headlights—frozen in shock and clueless about what you should do next or how you can defend yourself against the claims presented against you.

If you’re being arrested, the best way to protect yourself is to follow what the police tell you. This may not be an ideal approach, but resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer can be considered misdemeanors, which can put you in a more incriminating situation than you were in the first place.

So try not to do anything that will worsen your current circumstances. Instead, listen to the arrest warrant and follow their instructions, even if you know that you’re innocent in all this. Don’t do or say anything because that can be used against you in a court of law.

But before you contact a criminal defense attorney to clear up your name and get rid of the charges, you must first understand how these offenses are classified. This way, you’ll know what possible punishments you’re up against and how you can best protect your honor. Here are the three main classifications of offenses and crimes:


Among the three classifications of criminal charges, infractions are considered petty offenses because they are only punishable by fines. These types of crimes never result in jail time, which means the court won’t have to appoint the defendant with free legal counsel nor give them entitlement to a jury trial.

Typically, infractions are violations of ordinances, municipal codes, state traffic rules, or administrative regulations. These can include traffic violations, jaywalking, littering, drinking in public, or disturbing the peace, but an infraction rarely leads to incarceration because it’s often solved through fines or penalties.

However, for repeat offenders, infractions can be classified as misdemeanors and felonies, too, depending on the findings of the court. A lot of states consider certain infractions as civil offenses instead of criminal charges, particularly because the punishment it comes with doesn’t involve jail time.


Crimes that are heavier than a violation of the law but lighter than a felony are called misdemeanors. Much like infractions, offenders may be punishable by fines, but they can also be given probation, community service, or restitution for the victims. A misdemeanor can result in less than a year of local jail time.

Because a misdemeanor is considered more serious than an infraction, the defendant will be entitled to a jury trial with a private or court-appointed legal representative. Misdemeanors are further classified into different classes because each has a specific punishment type, such as longer jail time.

person in jail

For instance, a misdemeanant who committed a class B offense will be sentenced to 180 days of jail time, while another with a class A offense will be sentenced to a full year. But this still varies because there are states that don’t classify their misdemeanors; instead, their courts use the statute to define the punishment for the crime.

There are many kinds of misdemeanors, such as trespassing, criminal mischief, indecent exposure, graffiti, and theft, driving under the influence (DUI), assault, burglary, resisting arrest, perjury, or a violation of a restraining order are misdemeanors that fall under the class A category, which can result up to a full year of imprisonment in the local jail.


Out of the three classifications of federal crimes, felonies are considered the most serious type because they often involve inflicting pain or threatening to harm the victims. But white-collar crimes, such as fraud schemes, money laundering, and public corruption, are also classified as felonies that can result in a minimum of one year to life imprisonment in a state or federal penitentiary.

The more obvious examples of felonies include murder, homicide, burglary, assault, and battery, to name a few. Serious sexual offenses such as rape, child molestation, and human trafficking also fall under the classification of felonies, along with drug crimes that involve manufacturing, distributing, or selling controlled substances.

A felony conviction comes with lifelong restrictions such as losing the right to vote, run for office, or hold a professional license. People charged with a felony will typically need to post bail to be released from detention and may have to pay higher fines compared to that of misdemeanors or infractions.

Knowing how criminal charges differ from one another can help you prepare yourself for the emotional roller coaster that is clearing your name, especially if you’ve been wrongly accused. By becoming familiar with how infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies are punished, you’ll have more information about how to protect yourself should you be faced with a criminal charge.

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