Felony → Misdemeanor → Infraction: What does it mean?

Oftentimes lawyers say they were able to get a charge reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor or infraction.  Although this reduction probably sounds good to the client, what does it really mean?  The differences between felonies, misdemeanors and infractions can seriously impact your penalties, rights, and future opportunities.

behind_bars_xsmallCrimes that are categorized as felonies are considered more serious.  A felony carries a higher sentence, usually more than one year in prison.  Being convicted of a felony carries greater consequences in states like California because of the Three Strikes Law.  The Three Strikes Law states that a person convicted of a felony, who has already been convicted of two or more “violent crimes” or “serious felonies” will receive a heightened sentence.  This heightened sentence is usually 25 years to life in prison.  Because of this law, the distinction between felonies and misdemeanors or infractions has become very important to the criminal justice system.

Examples of crimes that are categorized as felonies include murder, robbery, and grand theft.  Being convicted of a felony also impacts the defendant’s civil liberties.  A convicted felon cannot vote, serve on a jury (some would argue this isn’t exactly a punishment), hold public office, and there is a complete loss of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Misdemeanors are considered less serious than felonies and the consequences aren’t as harsh.  A misdemeanor usually carries a sentence of less than one year in jail and has no impact on civil liberties.  Examples of crimes that fall under the category of misdemeanors include petty theft, simple assault, vandalism, trespass, and public intoxication.

Although misdemeanors are labeled less serious than felonies, a conviction is still a serious matter.  Misdemeanors often carry heavy monetary penalties and probation terms.  A misdemeanor conviction will also appear on a background check.  The expungement process is a possible remedy for clients with worries about background checks.

Infractions are one step below misdemeanors and carry no jail time.  Infractions are not considered “criminal” and will not appear on your record during a background check.  If you are accused of an infraction, you do not have the right to a trial by jury like you would if accused of a felony or misdemeanor.  The most common examples of infractions include moving violations such as speeding, running a red light or stop sign, or seat belt violations.  Although there is no threat of incarceration for infractions, they have an impact on your driver’s license in the form of points.

If you or a loved one have been accused or convicted of a felony, misdemeanor, or infraction, we highly recommend retaining a lawyer.  At the Law Offices of Jeffery K. Rubenstein, we are experienced in successfully getting charges reduced and records expunged.

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