What Is the Difference Between an Infraction, a Misdemeanor, and a Felony?

In North Carolina, criminal offenses can fall into three primary categories: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Each of these categories carries different penalties and charges. The severity of the offense determines which type of charge is filed. 

Here is a brief overview of each category.

Infractions

An infraction is a non-criminal violation of the law that is typically punishable by a fine only. Unless otherwise specified in the North Carolina General Statutes, the maximum punishment for an infraction in North Carolina is $100. These offenses rarely, if ever, carry jail or prison time, and they and do not appear on a person’s criminal record. Examples of infractions include speeding, failure to wear a seatbelt, and jaywalking. 

Misdemeanors

A misdemeanor is a criminal offense. While not as serious as a felony, misdemeanors should still be taken seriously, as they are punishable by jail time and a fine. There are four classes of misdemeanors in North Carolina, ranging from the least serious (Class 3) to the most serious (Class A1). The penalties for misdemeanors generally range from 20 days to up to 120 days in jail and fines of $1,000 or more. Examples of misdemeanors include possession of a small amount of marijuana, simple assault, and larceny under $1,000. 

Felonies

A felony is the most serious type of criminal offense. Felonies are punishable by fines and prison terms of up to life in prison or, in the most serious cases, the death penalty. There are ten classifications of felonies in North Carolina, ranging from the least serious (Class I) to the most serious (Class A). When sentencing a defendant for a felony, judges take into account the defendant’s prior record and the severity of the crime. Examples of felonies include assault with a deadly weapon, larceny of more than $1,000, and first-degree murder. 

Do I Need a Lawyer to Represent Me? 

It is always wise to have an experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney at your side when fighting any type of charge. While infractions can be handled without an attorney, it is helpful to have one guide you through the legal process. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony, it is necessary to have a trusted criminal defense attorney working on your behalf. 

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