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Criminal Classification

When we think of criminal matters, we typically lump everything into one bucket, saying someone has been convicted of a "crime". The reality is that criminal law is far more nuanced than that, with different levels of classification. What are these different classifications? What do they mean? When do they apply?

First, let's discuss who makes decisions about criminal classification. You would think something so important would be decided on a uniform, national level. If so, you would be wrong. Though creating similar rules for everyone in the U.S. to abide by makes sense, that is not how things work. Instead, determination of criminal classification occurs on the state level. State legislators decide, when they draft new criminal laws, how the crime will be classified. This means that crimes that are misdemeanors in one state might be felonies in another.


Infractions are also referred to in some places as violations and, as the name implies, they are the least serious form of criminal classification. Infractions are almost always small things, usually minor offenses that are punished by fines or community service. Infractions cannot result in jail time or probation, minimizing the potential negative consequences for defendants. That said, there are some downsides for defendants worth keeping in mind. For one thing, there is no right to a jury trial, for another, there is no constitutional obligation to receive an attorney if you can not afford one of your own. The fact that the consequences aren't especially severe means that defendants don't receive the same kind of protections that are available in other more seriously classified criminal matters.


The best example of an infraction is a traffic ticket. Let's say you get pulled over while cruising down Plaza Drive in Mooresville. The police officer says you were going 15 miles per hour over the speed limit. You show up in court, are found guilty and punished with a fine and a point on your driver's license.


The next step up in the criminal classification hierarchy involves misdemeanor offenses. Misdemeanors are criminal offenses that carry limited potential jail time. The usual rule is a misdemeanor is something that is punishable with a maximum year in jail. That is not the only possible punishment, however. Misdemeanors are also commonly punished with fines, probation and community service. In most states, defendants charged with misdemeanors are able to request an attorney and are entitled to a trial by jury, if they so choose.


A classic example of a misdemeanor is something like simple assault. It isn't an especially serious crime and the punishment is correspondingly less severe. In Mooresville, assault and battery are typically Class 2 misdemeanors and occur when the victim suffers a minor injury. Assuming the defendant didn't have priors, conviction would result in up to 30 days in jail or a fine of up to $1,000.


Felonies represent the most serious form of criminal classification. Felonies occur when a serious physical harm has occurred to another person or, in the case of white collar crimes, when large amounts of money have been stolen or misappropriated. Felonies, unlike misdemeanors, can result in a long period of time behind bars and often see sentences of greater than one year. In the most serious cases, felonies can result in life in prison or even the death penalty. Felonies also have the most serious impact on your criminal record and your ability to function successfully in society, making it harder to find housing or secure employment.


An example of a felony crime in Mooresville, North Carolina is assault with a deadly weapon. This occurs when an assault takes place involving an object that could be used to kill someone, most often a gun or a knife. If serious injury results, the defendant could be charged with a Class E felony, a crime that is punishable with 15 to 31 months in prison, based on the factors of the case.

The attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC have years of experience handling a wide range of criminal cases, from infractions to felonies. Our attorneys put their expertise and years of experience to work for you and strive to secure the best possible outcome for your case. Call Arnold & Smith, PLLC today for a free consultation to see what we can do for you.