As crimes increase in severity, they progress from infractions to misdemeanors and felonies.
When criminal acts become more serious, so do the penalties, ranging from fines all the way to the death penalty.
Committing an infraction will not establish a criminal record. The penalty for an infraction is typically a fine or community service and involves no jail time. A speeding ticket is an example of an infraction.
The state of Texas defines misdemeanors as crimes punishable by up to one year in jail. The penal code breaks misdemeanors into three classes. Class A misdemeanors such as domestic violence or unlawfully carrying a firearm are punishable by a maximum fine of $4,000 and up to a year in the county jail. Examples of Class B misdemeanors that carry a sentence of up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine include indecent exposure, prostitution and reckless driving. Class C misdemeanors, such as public intoxication or a minor in possession of alcohol, carry a maximum penalty of $500 and no jail time. However, regardless of its class, misdemeanors do result in a criminal record.
Felonies are crimes that carry a sentence of more than one year. They are further categorized, ranging from a capital felony punishable by the death penalty to a state jail crime which carries six months to two years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine. In between are first, second and third-degree felonies which carry prison terms and a maximum $10,000 fine.
Though most states and the federal criminal code categorize misdemeanors and felonies into classes the way Texas does, penalties and classification details may vary outside the state.