As in other states, Michigan law recognizes that all crimes are not created equal. Most people would agree that harming someone in a drunk driving accident is far more serious than, say, speeding.
For this reason, the state criminal code divides the types of activities it prohibits into three categories: infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. Most people know that felonies are considered more serious than misdemeanors, and that both generally are more serious than infractions. But what exactly distinguishes these types of crimes? And what different type of punishments do defendants face?
Anyone who has ever gotten a speeding ticket has been charged with an infraction. Infractions usually make up the least serious crimes: traffic violations, jaywalking and perhaps minor drug possession. The punishment is almost always a fine, though failure to pay the fine could increase the range of potential penalties.
A misdemeanor is more serious than an infraction, but less serious than a felony. A fairly wide range of violations are misdemeanors, but in general, they can be defined as anything punishable by no more than a year in jail.
By contrast, felonies can result in the convicted person being sentenced to prison for more than one year. These are the most serious crimes, often involving severe injury to a person or property: murder, rape, arson, kidnapping and burglary. Obviously, a conviction often results in a prison sentence of much more than a year. A life sentence or even death sentence could be handed down, in some states.
Anyone charged with a misdemeanor or felony has the right to an attorney, to mount a defense and protect their civil rights.