In the world of Criminal Justice, there are three types of crimes that everyone should be aware of, in the event you are ever charged with any of these three. Knowing and understanding the charges against you is the second piece of the puzzle, after knowing and understanding your rights, which is always first and foremost.
Violations (also known as infractions) are the most minor of offenses. A speeding ticket, public intoxication, or jaywalking are some of the many petty offenses that could fall under the umbrella of violations. Violations are punishable by fines primarily, and do not result in jail or prison time. Since there is no threat of incarceration or probation, a jury trial is not necessary. You are free to appoint an attorney, but since these offenses are considered so minor, the government is not required to provide an attorney for you.
Misdemeanors are the second type of criminal offenses. More serious than violations but less severe than felonies, misdemeanors can carry up to a year in jail (not prison, the difference of which will be explained in a later post). In addition to jail time, a person convicted of a misdemeanor can also be subject to fines, probation, community service or restitution (victim compensation). A classic case of a misdemeanor would be simple assault, possession of a small amount of marijuana, or driving under the influence. If charged with a misdemeanor, you are fully entitled to an attorney and the state is required to appoint you one if you are unable to pay for your own.
Felonies are the most serious of offenses and require a more thorough classification. They are separated by letter, with Class A being the most serious and Class E being the least. They are also divided into a smaller sub category; violent and non violent. For example, in the state of New York, a non-violent, Class D felony would call for 1 to 4 years of probation. However, a violent Class D felony would automatically require a prison sentence of at least two years. What characterizes each felony as violent or non-violent is usually the presence of a weapon (possession of a firearm) or bodily harm to another person (aggravated assault/battery). A Class A Felony (first degree murder) is punishable up to life in prison, with or without parole, depending on the circumstances. The defendant’s history also plays a part, as sentences could be made harsher if he/she has already been convicted of a previous crime(s).
Whatever your situation is, it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you are not familiar with the law, it is imperative you consult with an attorney. Criminal charges can have lasting effects and an attorney will do his or her best to handle these charges as quickly and efficiently as possible.