Hopefully you never have occasion to learn this firsthand, but there are three main categories of charges individuals can face for illegal conduct. The categories are defined by the seriousness of the offense and the type of punishment that is attached to the offense. The categories, in order of severity, are infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. Infractions are minor civil violations. Misdemeanors are more serious than infractions while felonies are the most serious of all.
Infractions are minor offenses that typically involve the violation of a city code, a state or local traffic rule or an administrative regulation. Infractions are civil,rather than criminal offenses, and do not carry any risk of jail time or probation. The punishment for infractions is almost always a fine.
Misdemeanors are criminal offenses that carry a sentence of no more than one year behind bars. Misdemeanors are more serious than infractions and may also result in heavy fines. Anyone convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to jail will serve his or her sentence in a county or local jail, rather than a state or federal prison.
The best way to view misdemeanors is somewhere in the middle. They are serious offenses that require some punishment but nothing too terrible that would result in locking someone up and throwing away the key. Examples include offenses such as assaults with minimal injuries, possession of marijuana for personal use, and first time incidents of drunk driving.
Felonies are the highest level of criminal offenses and they usually result in prison sentences of longer than one year. Felonies include a variety of offenses ranging from possession of larger quantities of drugs to murder. Felonies, much like misdemeanors, are usually divided into degrees, with the higher the level of the offense resulting in a higher level of punishment.
The big lesson from the above discussion of criminal categories is to avoid interacting with the criminal justice system if at all possible. Even though you’re young,it’s important to understand that misdemeanor and felony convictions will permanently be on your record, forever. Forever is a long time.