Criminal Defense

Felonies, Misdemeanors & Infractions: What’s the Difference?

September 27, 2017 by Seppi Esfandi in Criminal Defense  Rights   Leave a Comment
Thumbnail for: Felonies, Misdemeanors & Infractions: What’s the Difference?

Three Types of Crimes

Criminal offenses in California are classified according to their seriousness. They are categorized in 3 different types: Infraction, Misdemeanor, and Felony.

For crimes against property: the gravity of a crime is proportional to the value of the property taken or damaged. The greater the property value, the more serious the crime.

For crimes against persons: the gravity of a crime is proportional to the amount of bodily injury inflicted on someone. The greater the injury, the more serious the crime.

Several other factors can influence the seriousness of a defendant’s charges. These factors include (but not limited to):

  • Was the crime commited with intent, cruelty, malice, or in reckless negligence of safety?
  • Did the defendant have a prior criminal record?
  • Was the victim a minor, senior citizen, handicapped, etc?
  • Was it a hate crime?
  • Was the crime associated with a gang?

Thus, a less serious crime can be made more serious by the presence of these additional factors, and a more serious crime can be made less serious by their absence.

Categories of California Crimes
 (Click to Enlarge)

1. Infraction

An infraction, sometimes also called ‘petty offense’ or simply a ‘violation’, is usually a minor offense of the law, contract or right. Infractions are not punishable by a prison term or jail time, but are subject to a maximum fine of $250.

The most common of these small violations are traffic offenses. As a punishment, the defendant’s license may also be suspended based on accumulated points:

Common examples of ‘1-Point’ DMV Infractions:

  • Disobeying traffic signals or signs.
  • Failure to yield the right of way to a pedestrian.
  • Conducting an illegal U-turn.
  • Speeding above the posted limits.
  • Failure to stop for a school bus.
  • Drug and alcohol offenses.
  • Child safety restraint violations.
  • Passing on a double line.

Common examples of ‘2-Point’ DMV Infractions:

  • Reckless driving.
  • Evading law enforcement.
  • Driving at a speed over 100 MPH.
  • Transporting explosives.
  • Hit and run with property damage or physical injury.
  • Driving with a suspended or revoked license.

Those accused of infractions do not have the right to a jury trial, since violations cannot lead to imprisonment or even probation. A defendant charged with an infraction may hire an attorney, but the court doesn’t have a duty to appoint a public defender for these cases. In fact, even prosecutors don’t appear on behalf of the people in most cases involving infractions.

An infraction won’t appear on a convicted offender’s criminal record.

2. Misdemeanor

A misdemeanor is a criminal offense in California which is punishable by:

  • Standard Misdemeanor – a prison term of up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000
  • Aggravated Misdemeanor (Gross Misdemeanor) – a prison term of up to 1 year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000

Similarly, the penalty for misdemeanor may include: probation, community service, payment of a fine, and restitution. Some aggravated misdemeanors also carry more severe fines, for instance a misdemeanor violation of Battery on a Police Officer is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year and/or a $2,000 fine.

Defendants who are accused of a misdemeanor often have the right to a jury trial. Indigent defendants who was accused of committing misdemeanor often have the right to legal representation via a public defender, but have much better chances of reducing, dismissing or winning their case with a criminal defense attorney.

A misdemeanor offense will appear on a convicted offender’s criminal record.

3. Felony

A felony is the most serious type of criminal offense (drug sales cases, robbery, sex crimes, and assault with a deadly weapon, corporal injury to spouse, rape, murder, etc), and often associated with the threat of harm and/or with serious physical harm to a victim.

Surprising to some, non-violent white collar crimes like fraud schemes are felonies in California

It’s important to note that offenses that are normally misdemeanors may be elevated to felonies for second-time offenders. A felony conviction, like a misdemeanor conviction, doesn’t necessarily mean you will be incarcerated, but the chances that you will be are much greater.

A felony involves a prison sentence of:

  • Non-Aggravated Felony – more than 1 year in county jail or California state prison, or probation and/or a fine of up to $10,000
  • Aggravated Felony – a prison term of up to life imprisonment without parole and/or a fine of up to $10,000
  • Enhanced Felony – longer prison terms for multiple offenses, gang involvement, or 3-strikes laws and/or a fine of up to $10,000

Generally, a California felony offender will receive the standard term. The judge will usually only impose a sentence to the higher term if the crime involves aggravation or violence, such as: use of a weapon or a crime involving violence. By contrast, a lower term is imposed when there are mitigation factors involved in the crime. For example if the offender’s participation in the crime was marginal.

The defendant can also be fined up to $10,000, the payment of a fine can be in addition to imprisonment, or instead of imprisonment.

A felony offense will appear on a convicted offender’s criminal record.

‘Wobblers’ and ‘Wobblettes’

Wobblers

Wobblers are crimes that “wobble” between two classifications and may be prosecuted as either a felony or misdemeanor.

An offense that was prosecuted as a felony may also be downgraded to a misdemeanor at the time of sentencing. This occurs only when statutes authorize judges to punish offenders as either misdemeanors or felony offenders. For more details on which crimes are ‘wobblers’, see our Wobbler Article.

California Penal Code 17(b) PC establishes two requirements for reducing a felony conviction to a misdemeanor:

  • The underlying offense must be a wobbler, and probation must have been granted. In order for you to reduce your felony conviction to a misdemeanor, both of these requirements must be satisfied. This means that even if your offense was a wobbler, but you served time in the state prison you are ineligible for this relief.

Wobblettes

Wobblettes are essentially the same as wobblers, but they “wobble” between an infraction or misdemeanor.

An offense that was prosecuted as a misdemeanor may also be downgraded to an infraction at the time of sentencing.

Need Help?

Call Us: 310-274-6529

In many instances, an expert criminal defense attorney will be able reduce your charges to a lesser crime, have the case dismissed through something called ‘early intervention‘ or through ‘discovery‘, or beat your case.

If you have recently been arrested for any criminal offense or are under investigation, or please don’t hesitate to call us for a free, no-obligation consultation.

Seppi Esfandi is an expert in Criminal Law who has over 17 years of practice defending a variety of criminal cases.

Read our Client Reviews

Criminal Defense Help

  • New Crime Mapping Web Application

    New Crime Mapping Web Application

    CrimeMapping is an online public resource created by The Omega Group providing an overview of designated crimes within a particular law enforcement agency. Data is published with the expressed permission of each participating agency and the information is always validated through direct collaboration with law enforcement personnel. The default date range for the map is... Read More »
  • Criminal Defense Attorney Fees:  Why Such Disparities?

    Criminal Defense Attorney Fees: Why Such Disparities?

    Criminal Defense Lawyers: The Good and The Bad After being arrested, you may find yourself going through the arduous task of hiring a criminal defense attorney. After contacting several, you may be asking yourself “How can some attorneys charge as little as $699 while others charge as much as $10,000?” Unsurprisingly, the answer is the... Read More »
  • What Happens at a California Arraignment?

    What Happens at a California Arraignment?

    Arraignment FAQs Here at Esfandi Law we get lots of questions about the California arraignment process, so we decided to answer the most frequent ones in this article. Many people are confused or misinformed about what to expect at an arraignment. They are often left with more questions than answers once they leave the courtroom.... Read More »
  • What is a “Wet Reckless” Plea Bargain?

    What is a “Wet Reckless” Plea Bargain?

    Wet and Reckless “Vehicle Code 23103.5 – If the prosecution agrees to a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a charge of a violation of Section 23103 in satisfaction of, or as a substitute for, an original charge of a violation of Section 23152, the prosecution shall state for the record a factual basis... Read More »
  • Felonies, Misdemeanors & Infractions: What’s the Difference?

    Felonies, Misdemeanors & Infractions: What’s the Difference?

    Three Types of Crimes Criminal offenses in California are classified according to their seriousness. They are categorized in 3 different types: Infraction, Misdemeanor, and Felony. For crimes against property: the gravity of a crime is proportional to the value of the property taken or damaged. The greater the property value, the more serious the crime.... Read More »
  • Can an Employer ask for My Criminal Record in California?

    Can an Employer ask for My Criminal Record in California?

    One‑In‑Four Americans If you are one of the four Americans with a criminal record, you may run into obstacles in your job search. Surveys suggest that an alarming 92% of employers conducted criminal records checks on some job candidates, and 73% conducted criminal background checks on all candidates. An estimated one in four Americans has... Read More »
  • Knowing Your Rights: What to do If You Are Being Arrested

    Knowing Your Rights: What to do If You Are Being Arrested

    What to do If You Are Being Arrested This article focuses on what you should do if you are being placed under arrest by a police officer. We will discuss 10 basic rules to follow when you are being arrested: Don’t get angry Remain Silent Don’t agree to a search Ask to Contact Your Attorney... Read More »
  • Employment After a Felony Conviction

    Employment After a Felony Conviction

    Avoid a Felony at All Cost A felony conviction can be devastating to your search for gainful employment, as most reputable companies and desired job positions will merit some form of background check. Depending on the nature of your felony, there are certain jobs that can be impossible to get. For instance, if you have... Read More »

Gerardo C.

Seppi was amazing, one of the nicest persons I've met. He was very professional and handled my case like so. He assured me from the beginning what he was going to be able to do for me and always was truthful. He always answered my phone calls and when he didn't he would respond to my voicemails promptly as well communicate via text. The fees were very reasonable. I never had to go to court and he fixed everything for me. I will definitely recommend him to my friends and family.

Anthony M.

I was facing 2 felony counts which included 2 strikes on my record. Each count was a sentence of 2-4 years in state prison. I was looking at 2 counts which could have sent me to jail for a maximum of 8 years. The DA was trying to offer me a lesser misdemeanor charge and Mr. Esfandi advised me to deny their offer and he assured me of a better outcome. MY CASE WAS DISMISSED! I told my girlfriend this is a blessing from God, and she said no it wasn't, you had a great lawyer! Thank you Seppi for doing an outstanding job. You saved my life!

Evan N.

This was the first time that I had to choose an attorney for anything. I am very thankful that I end up choosing Seppi Esfandi. The outcome of my brothers case was perfect and beyond fair with no jail time! I believe that without Seppi, my brother would had definitely been charged with a felony and served jail time. My family is extremely pleased with the professionalism that the Law Office of Seppi Esfandi had provided during the case. The paralegal, Jorge, was very friendly, professional, and I could immediately tell that they cared about our family situation. THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN!

Courtney M.

I've never been in a situation where I needed a lawyer before. Seppi has been highly communicative, proactive and knowledgeable as well as affordable. He is very personable and listens to you, as well as makes you feel comfortable with the process. I felt such relief after choosing him. The best part? He got my case dismissed! I highly recommend him.

Amber B.

Meeting with Seppi Esfandi was the first step in the right direction after a big setback. He is professional, honest, generous, and has passion for what he does. He quickly and effectively answered every single question I had regarding my case and went above and beyond to help me. Esfandi did not stop fighting for me until he saw results in my case - I am so appreciative and grateful for all of his dedication and passion.

Carrie P.

Seppi was the first attorney I have ever hired and will be the only one I ever hire! My kids father was looking at 4 years prison and he got him down to 180 days and back to probation. So instead of prison time he is staying in county to only serve around 90 days. There were more then one cases and even though Seppi could've have charged more to help extra he made sure the other case was done right. He was very attentive and caring and didn't have very bad pricing considering. Thank you so much Seppi!

Miguel T.

I was facing two felony charges Seppi was able to bring it down to a 1 misdemeanor, the other charge was dropped, i did not have to do any jail time and I did not have register. I'm very pleased with Seppi's help and also Jorge who was there from the day I called. I would highly recommend Seppi if you are in need of any legal help.

Cindy F.

Seppi and Shaun were by far the nicest people I have dealt with. I had a complicated situation with terrible prosecutors thinking just because I had a DUI, it automatically makes me a loser, a drunk, a terrible person - we all make mistakes. Seppi was able to get my case dismissed at one courthouse, and at the second was able to have me get the minimum sentence. I was scared from the get-go, but he was very supportive, especially after my mom passed. I would recommend Seppi and the Firm to my family/friends (heaven forbid they ever end up in my situation).

Britney D.

Seppi was awesome. He will answer his phone at 10pm on a Saturday or any other time you need him. The decision to hire him was obvious. I've never been in legal trouble before and he made me feel very comfortable and assured throughout the entire situation. I actually relocated to northern California before the case ended and he was able to handle everything for me from a distance. I did not have to fly back to LA once. As far as LA lawyers go I found him priced at the going rate and money very well spent. I cannot not speak for more serious offenders, but for my situation, it was perfect.

Johanna D.

Seppi was great. He helped me get through one of the most stressful and frightening moments in my life. He answered nearly every question I had & if he was unable to answer at the moment, he made sure to follow-up with me as soon as he had the answer and/or information I needed. Since this was my first time ever in a legal situation, I was scared and confused. Seppi definitely helped me get through it. With his willingness to listen to me and with his expertise, I felt comforted & at ease knowing I had his assistance.

Amanda P.

Seppi is the best lawyer!! I was charged with a felony and he told me that it was a felony strike but that he would work hard for me. I knew to get him on my case because of the way he presented himself, i could tell he was a good lawyer. my case got dismissed after he went to court with me a few times. I am so thankful to Seppi for helping me.

Defense Expertise

Recent Victories

Loading Quotes...

Videos:  Criminal Defense Attorney Seppi Esfandi

Best law firms