Infraction vs. Misdemeanor: What’s the Difference?

Updated May 23, 2024
6 min read
Title "Infraction vs Misdemeanor"; Themis, envelope, handcuffs, US flag, police ID card

If you or a loved one has recently received a ticket, you might find yourself uncertain about its implications. Is it an indication of a minor violation, also known as an infraction, or a more serious offense, termed a misdemeanor? A common question that arises in such situations is, what is the difference between a misdemeanor and an infraction? Understanding this distinction is crucial as it impacts the potential legal consequences and the overall gravity of the situation.

Felony to Misdemeanor to Infraction

The legal system divides crimes into categories. These categories are there to break down crimes into severity. They go from felony to misdemeanor to infraction, from worst to least. A clear understanding of the differences between these categories can help decide whether to charge a person with a misdemeanor vs. an infraction.

There are different degrees of punishment for each, as laid out in the table below:

Felony conviction
  • Most severe
  • Prison/jail time
  • Stays on your permanent criminal record
  • Parole after prison time, which can impact your ability to get a job or move
Misdemeanor conviction
  • Medium severity
  • Jail time
  • Hundreds of dollars in fine
  • Stays on your record for a specific length of time but can be expunged
  • Probation after jail time, which can impact your ability to get a job or move


  • Minimal severity
  • No jail time
  • Usually $250 in fines
  • Nothing on your record
  • No probationary period

If you are facing a misdemeanor or infraction for a criminal offense, whether something becomes part of your criminal record depends on the conviction. A misdemeanor charge or felony conviction will almost always result in jail time or prison time, a mark on your record that may be permanent, and a fiscal punishment upwards of tens of thousands of dollars. 

What Is an Infraction?

So, what is an infraction? It is a criminal charge for minor violations of the law. Most people have actually committed an infraction without realizing it was called that. Infractions include traffic violations such as:

  • Fix it tickets for broken lights or signals

  • Failure to use a turn signal

  • Tailgating

  • Parking tickets

  • Speeding

  • Failure to yield to a pedestrian

Other infractions include things like:

  • Violating a leash law when walking a dog;
  • Fishing without a license;
  • Camping without a license;
  • Housing violations, usually in relation to a rental property;
  • Noise violations.

What Is a Misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is a criminal violation based on local, state, or federal laws. Misdemeanors are not as bad as felonies, but some gross misdemeanors might be close. Misdemeanors include things like:

  • Severe traffic violations such as reckless endangerment, e.g., speeding 30 mph over the speed limit

  • Simple assault

  • Animal cruelty

  • Domestic abuse

  • Trespassing

  • Disorderly conduct

  • Petty theft under a certain amount of money

  • Driving on a revoked license

  • Drug violations

The Difference Between Infraction and Misdemeanor

What's the difference between misdemeanor and infraction? These terms hint at the gravity of an offense and, subsequently, the potential penalties involved. Let's explore this further and shed some light on the key distinctions between an infraction and a misdemeanor.


If you are facing a misdemeanor charge, you might have to appear in court. Usually, you can hire a law firm and an attorney to appear on your behalf, and they represent you in court.

You might have to appear in court for both an infraction and a misdemeanor, but in almost all cases of infractions, you don’t. Usually, you get a ticket, and that ticket has instructions for where and when to render payment for your fine. If you want to contest the ticket, then you might have to appear in court.

For example, if you received a traffic ticket for tailgating, but you do not believe you were tailgating, and you have a car camera recording as proof, then you might contest the ticket in court and present your evidence before a judge. 


An infraction punishment will almost entirely consist of fines. These fines are often up to a few hundred dollars, no more. However, many local or county ordinances might have additional fines for minor traffic violations if you fail to pay on time, and such interest and additional fines can result in a much higher fee. 


One might wonder, comparing the infraction and misdemeanor, is an infraction worse than a misdemeanor? Typically, a misdemeanor, due to its more serious nature, may warrant jail time or probation. On the contrary, an infraction — usually reserved for minor violations — does not lead to jail time.  

License and jobs

You might have your license revoked with a misdemeanor, especially if your crime involved cars. Severe things like a first-time DUI will result in a revocation of your license, time in county jail, and an appearance before a judge. With a good criminal defense attorney who knows the law in your area, you might get lesser charges with your local vehicle code dropped in exchange for probation, community service, and paying fines. With an infraction, it is unlikely you’ll lose your license.

If you’re involved in community service, it is best to prepare a community service form as proof that the charges could be dropped. 

With a misdemeanor, especially a gross misdemeanor, your charge might result in a mark on your permanent record. Usually, this stays for a few years, but in some states, you can pursue legal options to have it removed after a certain amount of time. When this mark is on your criminal record, it can interfere with your ability to get a job, especially jobs that do criminal background checks. This does not happen for an infraction.

Probationary period

Another difference between misdemeanor and infraction is the probationary period afterward. If, for example, you are charged with petty theft, a consultation with a law firm might tell you that it could be a misdemeanor or an infraction, depending on what was taken. Stealing a candy bar might be an infraction, but stealing the cash in the register might be a misdemeanor.

A misdemeanor charge results in a probationary period. That probationary period could be after you have served your jail time, usually lasting one to three years. It could also be in lieu of jail time if you take a plea bargain. 


Overall, misdemeanors are criminal violations that have to be resolved in court, while infractions are usually less severe violations of local ordinances, particularly traffic violations. Infractions are not nearly as severe as misdemeanors, and they don’t carry as many punishments. Understanding the differences between an infraction or misdemeanor can help you determine the severity of any charges against you.

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