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The difference between infractions, misdemeanors and felonies

Individuals who are accused of crime might not know whether they are facing an infraction, misdemeanor or felony. In Ohio, the categorization of a crime is based on the seriousness of the action, the amount of jail time in the sentence and whether that time is served in county jail or state prison.

Infractions are generally the least serious and usually involve police officers writing and giving tickets to whomever they see doing something wrong. This usually involves the individuals paying fines for jaywalking and traffic violations. The individuals typically do not need to go to court, which means there is little to no jail time involved. However, the range of potential sentencing and fines could increase when infractions go unpaid or are not dealt with in some other manner.

A misdemeanor is the second-most serious type of crime and usually involves the convicted spending up to one year in county jail. Some examples of misdemeanors are petty theft of services or goods worth less than $500, disorderly conduct and paying with bad checks. There are also varying levels of misdemeanors, including minor misdemeanors that involve the convicted paying a fine but not spending any time in jail. Prosecutors usually have more flexibility when they decide on the crimes charges, plea bargains negotiated and punishments.

A felony is the most serious type of crime and usually involves the convicted spending longer than one year in state prison. Courtroom procedure is strictly observed to protect the rights of the defendants because the punishments may be severe. Some examples of felonies are burglary, robbery, arson, kidnapping, rape and murder. Felonies are classified on five levels, with fifth-degree charges being the least serious and first-degree charges being the most serious.

People accused of any violation of law, from infractions to felonies, could talk to an attorney about how to defend themselves against the charges. With their help, the defendants could get the charges dismissed or negotiate plea bargains to reduce the severity of the charges.

Source: FindLaw, "What Distinguishes a Misdemeanor From a Felony?," Accessed April 8, 2015

Source: Supreme Court of Ohio, "Felony or Misdemeanor," Accessed April 8, 2015

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