Crimes are classified as misdemeanors, felonies and infractions. More commonly known as petty crimes, infractions are violations of administrative regulations, ordinances and municipal codes. Some jurisdictions treat traffic violations as infractions.
Most states do not consider infractions to be criminal offenses but instead handle infractions as civil offenses. States that treat infractions as criminal offenses generally do not incarcerate people who commit infractions. Even in situations in which a person may face incarceration for an infraction, the confinement is typically limited to time in the local jail.
Criminal vs. Civil Law: What’s the Difference?
State and federal laws include criminal acts such as possession of illegal drugs or controlled substances, drunk driving, theft, assault or murder.
What are common infractions?
State and local laws dictate whether an offense is considered an infraction. Common examples of infractions include:
- Fishing without a license
- Minor traffic violations such as running a stop sign or speeding
- Campsite violations
- Operating a business without a permit
- Drinking in public
- Parking violations
- Disturbing the peace
- Walking a dog off-leash
- Building permit violations
Some jurisdictions require people who are accused of infractions to appear in civil court, while others require the defendant to appear in criminal court.
What are the penalties for infractions?
Unlike misdemeanors and felonies, infractions are most often not punishable by a jail or a prison sentence. In most cases, the accused can resolve the infraction by paying a relatively small fine.
However, a criminal penalty can sometimes arise out of an infraction. For example, ignoring an infraction ticket that calls for the payment of a fine or a court appearance can result in a judge issuing a warrant for the person’s arrest.
Courts are often willing to work with individuals who cannot pay a fine for an infraction. People who are facing financial difficulties should avoid further penalties by notifying the court in advance to make payment arrangements.
Why do prosecutors drop criminal charges?
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How does the infraction process work?
A law enforcement officer or government agency can begin the infraction process by issuing a ticket, also known as a citation. The citation serves as a notice of the infraction and includes the following:
- A unique citation number
- A description of the infraction
- The category of the offense
- The state or city code the offense violated
- The name of the party that issued the citation
- The jurisdiction
- The courthouse location
- A payment amount or court appearance date
- Directions on how to pay the fine
After receiving an infraction ticket, you must either pay a fine or you may have the option of appearing in court. If you choose to appear in court, you will have an opportunity to present a case in defense of the conduct in question.
Attorney representation is optional; however, choosing to be represented by an attorney can add the appearance of professionalism and strengthen the individual’s case.
Your legal rights with infractions
Infractions differ from felonies and misdemeanor charges in terms of the protections defendants have. People who are accused of infractions generally do not face the possibility of being deprived of their liberty for an extended amount of time. Therefore, the infraction process does not include as many protections.
People who are accused of an infraction generally do not have a right to a jury trial, although there are some rare exceptions in which certain states have enacted statutes that allow defendants who have been charged with an infraction to have a jury trial.
Although an individual who opts to appear before a judge to challenge an infraction may choose to be represented by an attorney, states and localities typically require infraction defendants to provide an attorney at their own expense.
The infraction process is similar to the criminal court process in the sense that court appearances are otherwise very similar to criminal trials. The defendant may present evidence and call witnesses. The law enforcement officer or government agency that issued the infraction ticket may also be called in for questioning.
If the defendant does not agree with the judge’s decision, the defendant may file an appeal to have the decision reversed.
Responding to an Infraction
Receiving an infraction is generally no cause for panic. Read the instructions on the infraction ticket, and decide how you would like to proceed.
If you plan to dispute the charge in court, organize the facts of your case, and consider hiring a defense attorney, but if you are looking for the easiest way to dispose of the infraction—pay the fine.
In some cases, there may be a lingering effect, such as receiving penalty points on your driver’s license for a driving infraction. To better understand the impact an infraction may have on your record, contact an attorney.
Finally, if you’re unable to pay the fine associated with the infraction before the due date, contact the entity listed on the citation. Ignoring an infraction ticket is never a good idea, as the penalty may increase in severity.