A crime is a crime is a crime, right? Wrong. There are varying levels of crimes that can impact everything from the punishment received to the amount the crime will impact an offender’s criminal record.

There are three main types of crimes in the United States: infractions, misdemeanors and felonies.

Infraction

Minor offenses such as traffic tickets, littering, disturbing the peace and other less serious crimes are considered infractions. These infractions – also termed petty offenses – are violations of rules, laws or ordinances. They may also have different classes

The punishment for infractions is typically a fine and rarely involves jail time (unless left unaddressed), although federal laws do include the potential for up to five days in jail if a judge deems that necessary. Infractions/petty offenses/violations also will often not appear on a criminal record.

Misdemeanors

Misdemeanors are criminal offenses that are more serious than infractions but not as serious as felonies. They typically include a maximum jail term of one year under federal and state law, and jail time could likely be served in a local or county jail as opposed to a state or federal prison.

There are three main classes of federal misdemeanors and four in North Carolina. The class of misdemeanor determines the amount of jail time applicable for the crime, although many misdemeanors result in either a fine, restitution, community service, probation, or a combination of those penalties.

North Carolina misdemeanor classes

  • Class A1 misdemeanor: Punishable by one to 150 days of jail or alternative penalties.
  • Class 1 misdemeanor: Punishable by one to 120 days of jail alternative penalties.
  • Class 2 misdemeanor: Punishable by one to 60 days of jail alternative penalties.
  • Class 3 misdemeanor: Punishable by one to 20 days of jail alternative penalties.

Prosecutors of misdemeanor cases often have a great deal of leeway in determining plea deals, punishments and even what to charge. Jury trials may be presented depending on the crime, in certain circumstances.

Misdemeanors may result in a criminal record, leading to issues finding employment after conviction. They can also be reclassified as felonies for repeat offenders.

Felonies

Felonies are the most serious category of crimes. Felony laws can differ from federal to state, so while these crimes are punishable with more than one year in prison if tried in federal court, state courts may have more lenient punishments.

Felonies are also defined by classes based on the level of punishment associated with a guilty verdict. Federal classes of felonies range from Class A (most serious) to Class E (least serious). In North Carolina, felonies are further divided into a total of 10 categories with Class A being the most serious and Class I being the least serious.

North Carolina felony classes

  • Class A felony: Punishable by the death penalty or life without parole.
  • Class B1 felony: Punishable by 144 months in prison to life without parole.
  • Class B2 felony: Punishable by 94 to 393 months minimum.
  • Class C felony: Punishable by 44 to 182 months minimum.
  • Class D felony: Punishable by 38 to 162 months minimum.
  • Class E felony: Punishable by 15 to 63 months minimum.
  • Class F felony: Punishable by 10 to 41 months minimum.
  • Class G felony: Punishable by eight to 31 months minimum.
  • Class H felony: Punishable by four to 25 months minimum.
  • Class I felony: Punishable by three to 12 months minimum.

Prior convictions may lead to a higher felony classification if you qualify as an Habitual Felon and will also impact your prior record level, increasing your exposure to a longer sentence.

Constitutional rights provide for certain criminal procedures for felony cases, such as trial by jury and the right to a speedy trial.

Felony convictions often have a stigma associated with them, and those convicted may have issues finding employment – in fact, some states won’t allow those convicted to work in certain careers including teaching, the military, or legal professions. They may also be restricted from purchasing or possessing firearms.