A person who breaks the law may be charged with an infraction, a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on what was involved. An example of an infraction would be a parking or speeding ticket or being found in possession of small amounts of drugs. The penalty is generally nothing more than a fine. However, if the issue is not addressed in a timely manner, increased penalties are possible.
Someone who is convicted of a misdemeanor will typically spend no more than a year behind bars, and the sentence is generally served in jail as opposed to a prison. When a person is charged with a misdemeanor, the prosecutor in the case may have leeway to negotiate a plea bargain in the case. In some jurisdictions, a misdemeanor is broadly defined as any crime that is not a felony or an infraction.
The most serious crimes are labeled as felonies, and strict procedures must be followed to ensure the rights of those charged. Felony charges are generally reserved for the most serious crimes such as homicide, burglary, rape or arson. The penalties for a felony may be handed down in a way that adequately punishes an individual for the crime that he or she committed. However, those convicted of a felony generally spend one or more years in prison.
Anyone who is charged with a crime may wish to talk to a criminal defense attorney. In some cases, an attorney may be retained to dispute infractions such as a speeding ticket or a minor drug possession charge. An attorney may be able to dispute witness testimony or physical evidence in a case to cast doubt on the case against the defendant.