Understanding the different varieties of crime is key to the criminal justice process. There are three major varieties of crimes: infractions, misdemeanors and felonies.

The law views these three different categories of crimes very differently and the penalties vary between them. According to FindLaw, the hallmark of a misdemeanor crime is that the jail sentence may be no longer than one calendar year.

How are misdemeanors different from infractions?

For the vast majority of infractions, there are no jail sentences involved. If there are jail sentences involved with an infraction, they are typically no longer than 5 days. A very common form of infraction is a traffic ticket. The law limits the penalties attached to infractions: most of the time to fines. Other forms of infractions are littering or trespassing. Sometimes the law categorizes infractions according to the nature of the infraction: a traffic ticket is a “moving violation” whereas littering would be a “non-moving violation.”

How are misdemeanors different from felonies?

Felonies are very serious crimes. An example of a felony charge is murder. Felonies may carry very serious penalties depending on the nature of the felony, such as life imprisonment or death. On the other hand, misdemeanors are far less serious. It is not uncommon for prosecutors to plea bargain with a person facing a lesser felony charge to accept misdemeanor charges so as to shorten the jail sentence.

A common example of a misdemeanor charge is public drunkenness. Prosecutors are also more likely to try plea bargaining with misdemeanor charges as compared to serious felony charges. If a court convicts somebody of a misdemeanor and they go to jail, it is likely that the convicted will serve time in a county jail rather than a prison.

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