Legal Definition of an Infraction in California Law

The California criminal justice system classifies crimes into three categories:

  1. felonies (the most serious crimes, punishable by imprisonment in the California state prison, or sometimes, even death),
  2. misdemeanors (crimes which are punishable by a maximum one-year county jail sentence), and
  3. infractions (which include many traffic / moving violations and a handful of other criminal offenses).1

Infractions are punishable by a maximum $250 fine.2 They do not subject an offender to incarceration or to being placed on probation under California's probation laws.  The most common examples of infractions are moving violations, such as

  • Vehicle Code 22350 VC speeding, and
  • Vehicle Code 21801 VC unsafe left or u-turn.3

Wobblers

Certain infractions are classified as wobblers under California law.  A "wobbler" is an offense that the prosecutor has the discretion to file as either a misdemeanor or an infraction, depending on

  1. the facts of the case, and
  2. your criminal history.4

Infraction wobblers include (but are not limited to):

When convicted of either of these offenses as an infraction, you face a maximum $250 fine.5

As Riverside criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi6 explains, "An experienced California criminal defense attorney knows the most effective arguments to persuade an otherwise reluctant prosecutor to file your wobbler as an infraction rather than as a misdemeanor."

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If you or loved one is charged with an infraction and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

You may also find helpful information in our related articles on The California Criminal Justice System; California Felonies; California Misdemeanors; Wobblers; and California Probation Laws.

Legal References:

1California Penal Code 16 PC -- Crimes; kinds.  ("Crimes and public offenses include: 1. Felonies; 2. Misdemeanors; and 3. Infractions.)

2California Penal Code 19.8 PC -- Infractions; classification of offenses; fines; effect of conviction, endnote 4, below.  ("Except where a lesser maximum fine is expressly provided for a violation of any of those sections, any violation which is an infraction is punishable by a fine not exceeding two hundred fifty dollars ($250).")

3California Vehicle Code 40000.1 VC - Infractions.  ("Except as otherwise provided in this article, it is unlawful and constitutes an infraction for any person to violate, or fail to comply with any provision of this code, or any local ordinance adopted pursuant to this code.")

California Vehicle Code 22350 VC speeding.  ("No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.")

Vehicle Code 21801 VC unsafe left or u-turn.  ("(a) The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left or to complete a U-turn upon a highway, or to turn left into public or private property, or an alley, shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching from the opposite direction which are close enough to constitute a hazard at any time during the turning movement, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to the approaching vehicles until the left turn or U-turn can be made with reasonable safety. (b) A driver having yielded as prescribed in subdivision (a), and having given a signal when and as required by this code, may turn left or complete a U-turn, and the drivers of vehicles approaching the intersection or the entrance to the property or alley from the opposite direction shall yield  the right-of-way to the turning vehicle.")

4California Penal Code 19.8 PC -- Infractions; classification of offenses; fines; effect of conviction.  ("The following offenses are subject to subdivision (d) of Section 17: Sections 193.8, 330, 415, 485, 490.7, 555, 652, and 853.7 of this code; subdivision (n) of Section 602 of this code; subdivision (b) of Section 25658 and Sections 21672, 25658.5, 25661, and 25662 of the Business and Professions Code; Section 27204 of the Government Code; subdivision (c) of Section 23109 and Sections 12500, 14601.1, 27150.1, 40508, and 42005 of the Vehicle Code, and any other offense which the Legislature makes subject to subdivision (d) of Section 17. Except where a lesser maximum fine is expressly provided for a violation of any of those sections, any violation which is an infraction is punishable by a fine not exceeding two hundred fifty dollars ($250). Except for the violations enumerated in subdivision (d) of Section 13202.5 of the Vehicle Code, and Section 14601.1 of the Vehicle Code based upon failure to appear, a conviction for any offense made an infraction under subdivision (d) of Section 17 is not grounds for the suspension, revocation, or denial of any license, or for the revocation of probation or parole of the person convicted.")

See also California Penal Code 17(d) PC.  ("(d) A violation of any code section listed in Section 19.8 is an infraction subject to the procedures described in Sections 19.6 and 19.7 when: (1) The prosecutor files a complaint charging the offense as an infraction unless the defendant, at the time he or she is arraigned, after being informed of his or her rights, elects to have the case proceed as a misdemeanor, or; (2) The court, with the consent of the defendant, determines that the offense is an infraction in which event the case shall proceed as if the defendant had been arraigned on an infraction complaint.")

5See California Penal Code 19.8 PC -- Infractions; classification of offenses; fines; effect of conviction, endnote 4, above.

6Riverside criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi uses his former experience as an Ontario Police Officer to represent clients throughout the Inland Empire including San Bernardino, Riverside, Banning, Fontana, Joshua Tree, Barstow and Victorville.

7Our California criminal defense attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier.  We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.  Please contact us at Shouse Law Group to find out how we can help you fight your criminal charges.

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