Going through the criminal justice system can be overwhelming, and understanding the terminology involved is vital. Any crime in the United States falls under one of three different legal umbrellas: an infraction, a misdemeanor and a felony. Within these umbrella classifications there are several different “levels” of severity.
A misdemeanor is a crime that is not as serious as a felony but carries heavier penalties than an infraction. The most important defining characteristic of a misdemeanor is that it is an offense punishable by no more than one year in jail, as per FindLaw.
How is a misdemeanor different from an infraction?
Infractions generally come with either zero jail sentence or fewer than 5 days. Infractions are the least serious variety of crime. For example, a traffic ticket is an infraction. It is possible for unpaid traffic tickets to lead to more serious consequences, but most of the time dealing with an infraction only involves paying a fine. There is no criminal record associated with an infraction.
On the other hand, misdemeanors do come with a possible jail sentence and will leave a mark on your criminal record.
How is a misdemeanor different from a felony?
Felonies are the most serious variety of crime. Crimes like arson, rape and murder are felonious in nature. A felony charge may leave you with a life sentence in jail or even the death penalty.
Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies. You will not spend more than one year in jail under a misdemeanor charge. It is also likely that you would serve any jail time in a county jail as compared to a prison. Additionally, prosecutors tend to plea bargain more often with misdemeanors as compared to felonies.