Our readers in Maryland may have heard of the terms "felony" or "misdemeanor" in conjunction with criminal charges. Although many may use these terms interchangeably, the reality is that they are very different levels of crimes, with different consequences for those who face the accusations.
The least serious type of crime is a fine or a ticket-these are known as infractions. This happens usually when a police officer allegedly sees someone doing something wrong and issues a handwritten ticket to that person, who then has to pay a fine. There is usually no time in court or jail involved in an infraction. However, if the fine remains unpaid the penalties keep aggregating and the consequences can then become more serious.
A misdemeanor is considered an offense more serious than an infraction, but it is still considered lesser than a felony. Some states define a misdemeanor as a crime that is not a felony or an infraction, while others define it as a crime that is punishable by up to a year in prison. The time in prison can be spent in a county jail usually, rather than a high-security prison.
The most serious types of crimes are called felonies. They are punishable by prison sentences of more than a year. Kidnapping, rape, burglary and murder are all considered felonies. Since the consequences are so grave and involve lengthy prison sentences, courtroom procedure must be strictly followed to ensure that an accused's rights are protected throughout the trial.
An accused has a number of rights, starting from the right to remain silent and the right to hire an attorney. Many Maryland residents may think that just because they have been charged with committing a crime, they no longer have any rights. This is not the case.