How Does an Infraction Differ from a Misdemeanor in CA?
As criminal defense attorneys, we always consider whether the facts of the case and the client’s criminal history allow a misdemeanor to be lowered to an infraction. In discussing the facts of the case with this in mind, our clients often then ask, “what is the difference between a misdemeanor and an infraction?”Why This Article Matters: In deciding whether to accept a plea bargain that involves a plea to an infraction, which is a conviction nonetheless, one ought to understand the huge differences it carries compared to a conviction for a misdemeanor.
The differences are significant. An infraction does not carry with it probation, which may be significant for one’s employer or future employment. Second, an infraction is the same level of crime as a parking ticket, so many employers will ask that any background check exclude your history of infractions, as they do not want a listing of your parking tickets. Moreover, an infraction is generally considered an almost insignificant crime, like not having one’s dog license renewed. The punishment for an infraction is only a fine, plus penalties and assessments.
In contrast, a plea to a misdemeanor, which may be punished by up to a year in jail and fines of up to $1,000, is more significant. A misdemeanor plea may have been earned by reducing a felony to a misdemeanor, so the underlying conduct is not as trivial as in an infraction. A DUI is generally a misdemeanor, although it can be charged as a felony in certain conditions. Domestic violence can be a misdemeanor or a felony. In other words, there is more of a serious nature to a misdemeanor.
With any misdemeanor, there is a right to a jury trial and an attorney. In an infraction, there is no right to a jury trial (or even a Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial) or an attorney. Therefore, if the prosecution does not arraign you on an infraction for several years, you cannot object on grounds that your Sixth Amendment rights to a speedy trial were violated.
Infractions typically resolve quickly, i.e. in one to three court appearances. This is most common with traffic violations, parking violations, seat belt violations and littering. Misdemeanors, on the other hand, can take several months, or even a year, to resolve – even without trial.
A conviction for a misdemeanor can carry with it professional licensing and immigration consequences and may require a defendant to register as a sex or narcotic offender. A conviction for certain misdemeanors can also affect a person’s ability to possess or own firearms for life. It is therefore very important to have a skilled and experienced attorney who is familiar with the local prosecutors to negotiate a plea bargain that avoids such consequences.
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