*****Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and is for educational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client privilege.
What constitutes a violation of the law includes many different things. But part of justice is about being able to consistently identify not only what is a crime/violation, but what kind of crime it is too. Because in order to deal out a just verdict in our punitive justice system, there needs to be a legal framework in place that defines illegal activity so that we can standardize fair and normal punishments for them. In the US crimes/law violations fall into 4 basic categories; felonies, misdemeanors, felony-misdemeanors (wobblers), and infractions. This blog will focus on defining infractions.
Infractions are the lowest on the rung of the different categories of offences. They are actually not considered to be a crime, as misdemeanors and felonies are. They are considered a violation of the law and only a civil offence. An infraction, also called a petty offense, is the violation of an administrative regulation, an ordinance, a municipal code, and, in some jurisdictions, a state or local traffic rule.
Because they are not an actual criminal offense, it stands to reason they are clearly not considered as severe. For this reason the punishments are also very minimal. No jail time can be ordered for an infraction and the maximum fine for an infraction is $250.00.
There are many commonplace examples of infractions you likely see people engage in on the daily. Some of this infractions include: traffic violations like parking incorrectly or speeding, littering, hunting or fishing out of season, jaywalking, drinking in public, disturbing the peace, walking a dog without a leash, operating a business without a license, building permit violations, etcetera etcetera etcetera. I could go on.
Some of the offenses listed above, in their more extreme examples, can become misdemeanors or felonies. For example, speeding could go from an infraction and ticket to a misdemeanor or felony if it is super reckless, say going at high speeds near a school.
Similarly, some misdemeanors can be downgraded to infractions. “Wobblettes” are those offenses that toe the line between civil and criminal offenses. What the courts decide to treat it as is dependent on a variety of factors, including either the facts of the case itself or based upon the prior criminal history of the defendant.