Types of Criminal Charges Overview

misdemeanorIn the U.S., federal and state laws categorize criminal charges into three separate category types. Each type is based on the severity of the crime. In order of severity, felony charges are the most serious, followed by misdemeanors. At the lowest level are infractions.

What is a felony?

A felony is the most severe type of criminal charge. Generally, a felony will involve serious harm, or at least the threat of serious harm, to another individual. Often times, the harm involved is physical.

Examples of a felony include:

A felony can also include crimes that involve significant financial loss.
These crimes include:

  • Fraud
  • Grand theft

It is important to note that if a person is an accomplice to another person planning, committing, or even escaping after a felony crime, that person can also be convicted of a felony charge.

In certain situations, a misdemeanor can become a felony. An example of this would be if a person already had two misdemeanor convictions for a repeated crime. Another case where a misdemeanor could be changed to a felony is if a person was injured while the misdemeanor was committed.

What are the consequences of a felony conviction in San Marcos?

The consequences for a felony may include a potential prison sentence of at least one year or up to life. The sentence term is based on the seriousness of the crime. Another punishment for a felony may include large fines.

The federal government and individual states categorize felonies by severity. The punishments for felonies increase by severity. As an example, within federal law, Class A felonies are the worst and have a maximum penalty of life in prison, or even death. Whereas Class E felonies are the lowest level and punishments include potential prison time of 1 to 5 years.

With punishments being potentially life altering, a person facing a felony charge generally has the right to a jury trial. This person also has the right to a court appointed lawyer in the event they cannot afford to hire an attorney for themselves.

It’s possible that a person being convicted of a felony charge may lose some civil rights as well.
These may include rights such as:

  • Being able to be employed in certain fields
  • Carrying or owning a gun
  • Serving on a jury
  • Traveling outside of the country
  • Voting

Certain states allow a person’s rights to be reinstated after their sentence has been completed. However, in others, after a sentence is completed, the person must apply to receive these rights again. There is no guarantee that the request will be granted, however.

What is a misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is a crime that is not quite serious enough to be classified as a felony.

Examples of misdemeanor crimes include:

There is a very thin separator between what is considered a misdemeanor and what is considered a felony charge. For instance, while drug possession can be a misdemeanor, this crime can become a felony if the amount of drugs in possession is large enough. Another example would be if someone was convicted for DUI and then injured or killed someone. This would then be raised to a felony charge.

Punishment for misdemeanor convictions in San Marcos

In many cases, potential jail time for a misdemeanor is less than a year. Other consequences for a misdemeanor crime in San Marcos may include fines and community service.

Certain states allow a person being charged with a misdemeanor to complete a diversion or first-offender program. This allows for the conviction to be excluded from the person’s record. There are usually some requirements for the first offender program, including seeking counseling or paying restitution.

Similar to felony charges, misdemeanors also have various categories based on severity. A Class A misdemeanor is the most serious. Punishment for a Class A misdemeanor includes a jail sentence of 6 months to a year. The least severe misdemeanor type is a Class C, which has a punishment of 5 to 30 days in jail.

While a misdemeanor conviction is not as severe as a felony conviction, the effects on a person’s life may still be altering when it comes to seeking employment or other public benefits.

What is an infraction?

Infractions, sometimes referred to as a petty offense, are violations of the law, but are usually minor incidents. Some states do not classify infractions as criminal offenses.

Examples of an infraction include:

  • Disturbing the peace
  • Littering
  • Running past a stop sign
  • Speeding
  • Parking violations

Similar to misdemeanors, infractions are able to be raised to more serious charges if need be. An example would be if someone who was speeding received a charge for reckless driving, this would then be considered a misdemeanor.

Punishment for infraction

Most of the time, the consequence for an infraction is only a fine. In some cases, punishment for an infraction may be jail time, but only for a few days. The most severe infractions may require up to 5 days in jail.

Court can usually be avoided for an infraction by simply paying a fine. In the event a person decides to fight a ticket, they typically do not have the right to a jury trial or a court appointed attorney. A lawyer can still be hired if that person chooses to do so.

Another negative outcome of receiving traffic infractions is that points are added to the person’s driving record. Too many points in a short period time can be a suspended or revoked license. Increase insurance rates are also a common outcome of traffic infractions.

While most infractions do not require an attorney, it may be a good idea to consider the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer for misdemeanor and felony charges as these crimes are more complex. A criminal defense attorney will also ensure that your rights are protected.

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