The criminal system of the United States is divided into several categories, with charges being assigned and classified according to the seriousness of the crime. The most common categories are infraction, misdemeanor, and felonies, though each category contains its own set of levels or classes. The type of crime determines what court you will appear before and whether you have a Town Justice like Judge Mike Tawil presiding over the case or if you will be taken before a Superior Court judge for the state. Knowing the differences between the criminal categories can help you know the consequences you are facing for the charge.
The least serious type of crime is considered an infraction, and in general, it is a violation of an ordinance, rule, or law. For many jurisdictions, the charge will not appear on a criminal record nor does it receive any jail time. At the state and local levels, infractions usually receive a fine as the punishment, but federal law has classified infractions as able to receive a maximum of five days in jail. Traffic and parking tickets are the most common infractions, but things like littering, trespassing, disturbing the peace, and other minor offenses are treated as infractions.
A police office usually writes a ticket to the individual presumed to be breaking the law, usually because the officer saw the offense. The person receiving the ticket can go to court to fight the charge or the payment can be made to the court clerk with no additional trouble. If a ticket is left unpaid, it can evolve into a more serious crime. There are different classes of infractions, and the amount of the fine and the applicable penalty increases according to the severity of the class of infraction.
A step up from infraction in seriousness, most state and federal laws place misdemeanors as criminal offenses that can land an individual in jail for up to a year. The federal government has established sentencing guidelines for the different classes of misdemeanors with each class having its own maximum imprisonment restrictions. For a Class A misdemeanor, the guilty party must serve more than six months in jail but with a maximum of one year. Class B misdemeanors serve a maximum of six months with a minimum of more than 30 days. For the lowest misdemeanor, Class C, the individual serves a minimum of five days but a maximum of 30 days. Jail time is often served in county jail, with the judge determining the appropriate sentence. The initial label of the crime, as in the severity of the charges, the punishment sought, and a plea bargain opportunity is left to the prosecutor.
The most serious type of crime is a felony. The federal government defines this crime as requiring a punishment of more than one year, but the state-level application of this definition has some freedom to it. States like New Jersey and Maine do not classify any criminal offenses, and some states use the term without defining it. For the bulk of the state judicial systems, the term felony will refer to the place of incarceration or the length of the sentence handed down. Crimes that will serve more than a year in prison are generally referred to as felony. Just like misdemeanors, there are sentencing guidelines issued by the federal government for the classifications of felonies. Because of the potential severity of punishments, criminal procedures have to be strictly followed to protect the defendant’s rights.
If you are facing criminal charges, you should contact a lawyer. They will understand the case made against you and provide you with counsel to either reduce your sentence or prove your innocence.