Like the rest of the United States, the justice system in Virginia has different categories for criminal offenses. Whether a crime is a misdemeanor or felony typically depends on the severity of the offense. There is also a stark difference in the type of incarceration sentence an individual may receive if convicted.
Some of the least serious offenses are infractions. A person accused of committing an infraction usually does not have to spend very much time in court or jail. Common infractions may include jaywalking, minor drug possession offenses or traffic tickets. If an infraction is not paid or addressed, the offender will be at risk for higher fines and other penalties.
Misdemeanor crimes are more serious than infractions and generally refer to offenses that carry up to one year's worth of incarceration. Individuals convicted of misdemeanors may serve their sentence in a county jail rather than a prison with high-level security. Prosecutors tend to have discretion when determining which misdemeanor crimes to charge and how those convicted of the crimes should be penalized. They also have wide leeway in deciding what type of plea bargains to use in negotiations.
Felonies are the crimes that carry the most severe penalties. They typically have incarceration times that exceed one year. There are a variety of ways in which those convicted of felonies can be punished so that the penalty corresponds to the crime's severity. Felonies may include kidnapping, rape, arson, murder or burglary.
A criminal defense attorney can work to protect the rights of a client who has been accused of felonies. Counsel may be given regarding possible penalties for murder, felony drug crimes or felony DUI. Depending on the circumstances of each case, negotiation may be used to have the charges reduced or dropped and the penalties lessened.