Infractions, Misdemeanors & Felonies: Understand The Differences

by Matthew B. Wallin | April 8, 2010


Infractions are crimes that cannot be punishable by imprisonment in jail. As such, you are not entitled to a trial by jury. If you wish to fight the charges, however, you are entitled to hire your own attorney and to set the matter for what is know as a "bench trial," where a judge, not a jury, hears the case. The maximum punishment involves a fine and depending on the violation, a point on your driving record. Certain misdemeanor offenses can be reduced to an infraction depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding the offense.


Misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum fine of $1000 and a county jail term of less than one year. However, some offenses exceed those limits. Common examples of misdemeanor violations include Theft under $400 ("petty theft") and first time Drunk Driving (DUI).


Felony crimes are punishable by a state prison term (one year or more) or death. Common examples of felony crimes are Murder, Posession of Drugs for Sale, Robbery and Rape.


"Wobblers" are a class of crimes that can be charged either as a misdemeanor or felony at the discretion of the prosecutor. Sometimes wobblers begin as felonies, but are then reduced to a misdemeanor by the court, or are reduced to a misdemeanor as part of a plea bargain.

Some felonies are considered "wobblers." This means that the underlying criminal charge could be pursued as either a misdemeanor or felony. Some examples include DUI with injuries, Domestic Violence and Grand Theft.

Does Legal Terminology Spark Your Interest?

If discussing and understanding the differences between these various types of charges and laws is something that sparks your interest, consider exploring the idea of pursuing a law degree.  Not only will you dive deeply into studying the nuances of charges like those listed above, you will also learn how these charges apply to the details of the individual cases you are dealing with.  Attention to detail and knowledge of the law is crucial in this profession; as you can see, charges may sound similar, but often have extremely different consequences once you study them closely.


For more information, connect with Attorney Matthew B. Wallin on LinkedIn.



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About the Author

Matthew B. Wallin, Esq. earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from The University of CA, Santa Barbara. He earned his juris doctorate at Chapman University Law School. He works as a criminal defense attorney for Wallin & Klarich in Tustin, CA, specializing in Criminal Defense, Juvenile Criminal Defense and DMV Matters.