In general, most states, including California, establish three categories of crimes: infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. It is important to know the differences between these categories, as the way a person's case will be treated in their state's court system depends on which category the alleged crime falls under.
The least serious categories of criminal activities are infractions. One example of an infraction is a speeding ticket. Usually if a person commits an infraction, they will merely be fined. When it comes to infractions, a person will need to be in court only a short amount of time, if they need to be in court at all. That being said, if a person racks up a series of infractions, the potential penalties could increase.
Next, there are misdemeanors. In general, a crime is a misdemeanor if the penalties associated with the crime do not exceed a year in jail. Some states simply define a misdemeanor as any type of crime that is not explicitly an infraction or a felony. There is a lot of flexibility when it comes to charging a person with a misdemeanor and with the potential punishments will be.
Finally, there are felonies. In general, a crime is a felony if the penalties associated with the crime exceed a year in prison. With felonies, court procedure is very important, so that the accused's constitutional rights are not violated. Some examples of felonies include arson, burglary and murder.
As you can see, the classification of a crime is very important, particularly when determining what types of penalties are on the table. If a person wants more information on how crimes are classified in California, they can contact a criminal defense attorney.
Source: FindLaw, "What Distinguishes a Misdemeanor From a Felony?," Accessed April 11, 2017