Each state places civil and criminal offenses into categories. A civil offense is defined as the violation of an administrative matter, while a criminal offense is defined as one that is a violation of local ordinances or state or federal statutes that prohibit specific conduct. Infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies are the three main categories states use to classify unlawful activity. State legislators determine how specific crimes are defined by considering the seriousness of the offenses in question. In general, infractions are the least serious offenses, whereas felonies are the most severe. Consequences for any offense are determined by considering the severity of the offense.
The term “infraction” is commonly associated with traffic laws. It is synonymous with the term “violation.” Infractions are petty offenses that are not punishable by jail time. They are the least severe type of misconduct and are punishable by issuing fees, and are typically not considered “criminal” charges. Traffic tickets are the most common example of civil infractions.
Jaywalking, speeding, failure to wear a seatbelt, running a red light, rolling through a stop sign, or failing to use a turn signal are all examples of driving infractions that are punishable by a fine. This does not include criminal activity such as hit-and-run or driving under the influence, which, although they take place inside of a vehicle, are much more serious offenses.
Other types of infractions include noise violations, building code violations, and littering. These are minor offenses that do not require a jury trial, and there is no fault or intent to be determined. The court just needs to conclude whether the defendant committed the crime. If it can be proven the defendant was not wearing his seatbelt at the time of the traffic stop, for instance, the defendant is issued a fine. Infractions do not appear on your criminal record.
The state of Florida divides crimes into two categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Floridas Misdemeanors are more severe in nature than infractions and are considered criminal offenses. These are punishable by up to a year in jail, and up to $1,000 in fines. There are two levels of misdemeanors: first degree misdemeanors and second degree misdemeanors. The maximum penalties allowed for misdemeanor offenses (a year in jail/ $1,000 fine) is reserved for first degree misdemeanors. Second degree misdemeanors in Florida are less serious offenses, carrying a possible conviction of up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
Misdemeanors in Florida do show up on a permanent criminal record and defendants are entitled to a jury trial. Examples of first degree Florida misdemeanors include first time DUI, driving with a suspended license (2nd offense), indecent exposure, domestic violence/ spousal abuse, boating under the influence, reckless driving, vandalism, prostitution, trespassing, and petit theft (2nd offense), among others. Second degree misdemeanors can include the first offense of a petit theft crime (theft under $300), driving without a valid driver’s license, placing harassing phone calls, disorderly conduct/ intoxication, and driving with a tag that is more than 6 months past expiration (2nd offense).
Felony offenses are crimes in which serious harm is done to the victim. A felony charge in Florida is punishable by time in state prison or even the death penalty. In general, felony is defined as any crime that faces a penalty of more than a year in prison. There are different classes of felonies that further break down the crime by level of severity. Below they are described with the maximum penalty for each:
- Capital felony (death or life imprisonment without parole)
- Life felony (40 years to life)
- First degree felony (30 years)
- Second degree felony (15 years)
- Third degree felony (5 years)
In some situations, misdemeanors can be elevated to felonies, or Florida felony charges can be reduced to misdemeanor charges. If you have been arrested in Florida, you face a minimum of misdemeanor penalties. These are not to be taken lightly, as they do establish a criminal record if it is your first time facing such charges. The best chance you have of returning to a normal life is by calling a serious criminal defense attorney in your area who has decades of experience representing the criminally accused. Brian Gabriel of The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel is that attorney in Palm Beach County, Florida. Receive a free legal consultation today by calling 561-622-5575.