Most people have probably heard of crimes being referred to as an infraction, or a misdemeanor or a felony, but may not know what the consequences of each of these law violations can mean. This post provides a brief overview of how to distinguish among them.
Infractions: Of the three categories discussed in this article, this is the least serious. It typically refers to a violation of a law that is remedied by the issuance of a citation or a ticket, payable by a fine, but ordinarily will not involve any time spent in jail. If one is subject to trial, there may not be a jury present. A parking violation and a speeding ticket are examples of infractions.
Misdemeanors: A misdemeanor crime can often result in a fine as well as some county jail time upon conviction, but ordinarily the maximum sentence is not more than one year. Misdemeanors can often lead to plea negotiations, as prosecutors and judges have some discretion in what punishments they may seek. Trials are often heard by six-member juries. Crimes that result in property damage or disorderly behaviors are examples of misdemeanor-level violations.
Felonies: The most serious type of crime, a felony, is often associated with crimes that can result in a state of federal prison for more than one year. Felonies are often associated with violent crimes, such as murder, robbery or rape, or serious property crimes like arson. Felonies can often invoke mandatory minimum sentences, making plea negotiations potentially less flexible compared to misdemeanors. Because of the potentially grave consequences of conviction, 12-member juries and other, stricter, prosecutorial safeguard requirements are often required for felony-level trials.
Another way to consider the differences among the three types of crimes is to examine their effects after one has completed his or her punishment. Felonies in particular can have lasting effects that can resonate for the rest of one's lifetime.
In Kentucky, the right to possess a firearm, the right to vote and one's ability to serve on a jury can all be negatively affected if one is convicted of a felony. For sex-crime felonies, registration as a sex offender may also be a requirement after any prison sentence is completed.
An attorney familiar with Kentucky criminal law is your best resource to answer specific questions you may have about crimes and their consequences in this state.