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What are classifications for criminal charges in Virginia?

Throughout our posts on this blog, our readers have probably come across the terms felony, misdemeanor and infraction. Each of those terms categorizes a criminal offense. Knowing what each term means might help your readers who are facing one of these three in the Virginia criminal justice system.

What is a felony?

A felony is the most serious classification for criminal charges. Generally, these charges can result in an incarceration sentence of more than one year. In some cases, a conviction might not result in any time behind bars. Some examples of felonies include robbery, murder, kidnapping and rape. Other crimes can also be considered felonies if the circumstances surrounding the crime meet the state's guidelines for a felony charge.

What is a misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is the middle-of-the-road when it comes to criminal charges. Misdemeanors are more serious than infractions but less serious than felonies. Generally, a misdemeanor can mean up to a year in jail. That time is usually served in a county or local jail instead of in a prison.

What is an infraction?

An infraction is a criminal charge that isn't serious enough to warrant a misdemeanor charge. Infractions are usually handled via a ticket that is given to the person who committed the crime. Oftentimes, there isn't any time spent in court. Most infractions can be handled by simply paying a fine. Despite the fact that infractions aren't serious, they must be handled. Failing to take care of an infraction can result in more serious charges.

No matter which classification you are being charged with, you have the right to defend yourself against the charges. Knowing how to assert that right is vital, so be sure to consult with someone familiar with the charges you are facing.

Source: FindLaw, "What Distinguishes a Misdemeanor From a Felony?" accessed Mar. 03, 2015

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