Crime is rarely black and white. As such, lawmakers created a tiering system that puts crimes in groupings under three main classifications: misdemeanor, felony and infraction.
Criminal charges can be further whittled down to property crimes and personal crimes. All five of these categories carry distinct punishments and sentences based on varying elements of the charge. Knowing the generalities of each type may help when it comes time to mount a defense.
The least punishable crime category is an infraction. These crimes include things we think of as petty acts, which carry fines, but do not require court appearances. Local ordinances and laws typically fall under this category. Things like noise laws and school speeding zone penalties comprise infractions.
Quite a few crimes begin as misdemeanors. These include acts that do not rise to a felony level. A physical action, like slapping someone, is usually a misdemeanor; however, it becomes more severe if you use an object to hit the person, like a crowbar or bat.
Misdemeanors may carry jail time, depending on the crime and the individual’s criminal history. The maximum time a person convicted under this category spends in jail is 12 months.
Things like driving under the influence and possession of drugs may begin as misdemeanors, but they increase to felonies depending on severity. A DUI where another person gets hurt makes the crime severity rise, as does possession of certain substances in specific quantities.
Felony charges carry more severe consequences and include crimes such as:
- Drug trafficking
- Grand theft
These crimes usually carry an underlying element, such as intent and purpose. It is rare for a crime resulting in a felony conviction to have occurred by accident. In some instances, the intention was not necessarily present, but specific actions taken by the accused made the outcome more likely. Felony crimes may result in prison time and even the death penalty in South Carolina.
Knowing the classification of crimes helps you know where you stand if you ever find yourself charged. Getting the help you need in these situations is essential to preserving your rights.