Infractions, Misdemeanors, and Felonies — What They Mean for You
The best way to protect your rights when facing criminal charges is to understand how the legal process works. And one of its most fundamental elements is the category in which a defendant is charged. In North Carolina, as with nearly all jurisdictions, criminal charges come in three main varieties: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies.
What do these mean for you? How might you approach them differently? And what are your rights as a defendant? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is an Infraction?
Infractions are the least serious type of offense within the U.S. criminal justice system. They often aren’t even technically considered a crime. The most common infractions are related to driving, parking, and road use. They include moving violations, parking tickets, jaywalking, and similar offenses.
Because of the nonviolent nature of infractions, punishments generally don’t involve any jail time. You’re more likely to see financial deterrents, although some punishments may include things like anger management courses or community service.
What Is a Misdemeanor?
The next level of seriousness is the misdemeanor. These are offenses that call for a more stringent response but which include less violence or less financial loss by the victims. Common misdemeanors include trespassing, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, indecent exposure, low-level burglary or writing bad checks, and violating a protective order.
Although they are considered less serious than felonies, misdemeanors are nothing to take lightly. They are divided into classes with an increasing severity of punishments allowed or dictated. Class 3 misdemeanors carry little or no jail time, while Class A1 offenses can land you in jail for months. In addition, you may face fines, probation, electronic monitoring, loss of driving privileges, or community service.
What Is a Felony?
Finally, you have felony charges. Felonies are the most serious type of charge, and they can carry heavy penalties. Jail time for felonies in North Carolina may range from two years to a lifetime.
What makes a felony a felony? Many factors go into this decision, starting with the type of crime charged. Breaking and entering, forgery, assault, high-value theft, identify theft, arson, burglary, involuntary manslaughter, and murder are felonies due to their violent, serious, and expensive natures. As with misdemeanors, felonies are differentiated by classes with rising penalties.
Felonies can also overlap with misdemeanors. For example, theft of items valued at less than $1,000 may be charged as a misdemeanor under state law. If the value rises over that, it could be a felony. And assault charges may usually be a misdemeanor, but they might become felonies if the victim is a member of law enforcement or after multiple assaults.
Which Will Be Charged Against You?
With all this in mind, your main question is probably what kind of charge will you or your loved one face? The answer varies with the circumstances of the specific crime.
But just because a person is charged with a particular type of crime doesn’t mean that is the end of the matter. Some crimes are wobblers, which could end up being a misdemeanor or a felony. Your attorney can often negotiate reductions in charges or penalties in return for a guilty plea and avoidance of court. And the sentence a judge imposes may further determine which conviction you end up with.
Where Should You Start?
The most important thing you can do when facing any type of charge is to meet with a qualified criminal defense attorney in your state. North Carolina residents should call on Carl L Britt, Jr. We will put our four decades of legal experience to work for you, assisting you with not only negotiation but also defense against any level of charges. Call today to learn more.