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Infractions, misdemeanors and felonies are categories used to diagnose the severity of a crime, directly correlating with punishment. Generally, an infraction is less serious than a misdemeanor, and a misdemeanor is less serious than a felony.

Understanding the charges against you or your loved ones is important in knowing how to deal with them.

What is an infraction?

An infraction is the least serious violation of a rule, ordinance or law. This could be an offense like a traffic violation, trespassing or littering. Typically, if you pay your fine, an infraction is not serious, though it can escalate if you do not. The punishment for an infraction varies depending on the type, but usually comes with:

  • No jail time or less than 5 days
  • Fines
  • Not on criminal record

What is a misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is a step up from an infraction. Federal and most state law classifies it as a criminal offense. Misdemeanors can include things like theft, prostitution, assault, trespassing, reckless driving and vandalism. Law enforcement divides them into classes depending on the severity of the crime:

  • Class A: between six months and one year in jail
  • Class B: between thirty days and six months in jail
  • Class C: between five days and thirty days in jail
  • Fines
  • Criminal record

What is a felony?

Finally, a felony is the most serious criminal offense. These can include crimes such as murder, rape, kidnapping, arson or burglary. Similar to a misdemeanor, felonies are classified based on their severity:

  • Class A: life in prison or death penalty
  • Class B: imprisonment of 25 years or more, but less than a life sentence
  • Class C: between ten and 25 years
  • Class D: between five and ten years
  • Class E: between one and five years
  • Fines
  • Criminal record