Criminal charges are not all put in the same category. They are classified according to the seriousness of the crime, either as infractions, misdemeanors, or felonies. Each type of crime has its own set of legal requirements, fines, and sentences.
If you got a ticket for parking in a private area or a fine for sliding through a red light, it is a minor offense, referred to as an infraction. Infractions cannot incur jail time nor probation, and therefore, are not subject to a jury trial. Most often, infractions involve traffic offenses, but they also include such things as jaywalking, littering, land use violations (for example, in campgrounds), building code violations, and noise ordinance violations. The main consequences for infractions are fines, and in the case of traffic violations, points on your driving record, which then cause your insurance premiums to increase.
Misdemeanors are petty crimes that may result in county jail time (up to one year) and probation, fines, community service, or restitution. Nonviolent crimes, such as shoplifting, trespassing, vandalism, petty theft, first-time drug possession, disorderly conduct, and simple assault (verbal threats, hitting, slapping, or other physical action without the use of a weapon) fall under the category of misdemeanors. Under a misdemeanor, an individual will not lose their civil liberties, such as the rights to vote, bear arms, serve on a jury, or hold public office.
The most serious category of crimes is a felony. When there is serious physical harm against another person or even the threat of it (murder, rape, kidnapping), it will fall under a felony. White collar crimes, fraud, armed robbery, grand theft, and arson are also considered felonies. Sometimes, repeat offenders will have their second offenses upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony. Felonies result in harsher sentences—higher fines and often, time spent in a state prison for more than a year. Felonies also result in the loss of civil liberties.
Wobblers are crimes that can be either misdemeanors or felonies. DUI and assault charges are two types of wobbler crimes. It’s in these situations that a criminal law attorney can be a lifesaver. Sometimes, an attorney can get a felony reduced to misdemeanors.
Getting charged with a criminal offense is disruptive to your life in more ways than one. If you’ve been charged, seek the advice of a criminal law attorney. He may be able to eliminate or downgrade your fines and/or sentences. This is especially helpful if you’re facing felony charges. At the very least, an attorney will help you know your rights and how to protect them.