Legal Definition of an Infraction in California Law

Updated


An infraction is a category of offense in the California justice system. Infractions are violations of the law. But they are not considered to be crimes, as opposed to misdemeanors and felonies, which are crimes. Courts cannot impose jail time for an infraction. The maximum sentence is a $250.00 fine.

Sometimes a more serious offense can be reduced to an infraction. This means a person can originally be charged with a misdemeanor. Then, the prosecutor can agree to reduce the offense to an infraction.

Also note that some California crimes are “wobblettes.” These are crimes that a prosecutor can charge as either:

  • an infraction, or
  • a misdemeanor.

The prosecutor makes the decision based upon:

  • the facts of the case, and
  • the defendant's criminal history.

Some examples of infractions under California law include:

Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:

police officer issuing a ticket - most traffic violations are infractions in California
Infractions are considered the least serious class of crimes in California.

1. What is an infraction?

An infraction is one type of offense in California's criminal justice system.

In total, there are three general types of crimes in California. The three are:

  1. infractions. These are the least serious offenses. They mostly include traffic violations.
  2. misdemeanors. These are crimes punishable by a maximum of one year in county jail.
  3. felonies. These are the most serious offenses. They are punishable by more than one year in jail, or a sentence to state prison.1

Infractions are punishable by a fine. The maximum amount is $250.2

These offenses will not cause people to lose their immigration status. Some misdemeanors and felonies can cause unfavorable results for non-citizens. These results can mean:

Infractions, however, to not trigger adverse immigration consequences.

Example: Martin is pulled over for driving 45 mph in a school zone. The police officer gives him a speeding ticket per VC 22350. This offense is charged as an infraction, as opposed to either a misdemeanor or a felony.

To fight the ticket, Martin attends traffic court. Martin is not a U.S. citizen. Even if the judge finds him guilty, it will have no impact on his immigration status.

2. Can a person go to jail for these crimes?

Infractions do not subject an offender to jail or prison time.

They also do not cause a person to be placed on probation. This includes both:

Infractions do not lead to imprisonment or probation. Thus a person charged with one does not have the right to a jury trial. Trials, rather, are "bench trials" that occur before a judge.

Further, a person charged with an infraction can hire a defense attorney to assist in the matter. But the State is not required to appoint a public defender for representation.

motorcycle officer issuing ticket
Infractions are punishable by a fine and no jail time.

3. How does an infraction differ from a misdemeanor?

An infraction is different from a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanors are more serious offenses than infractions. A misdemeanor can lead to the following penalties:

  • custody in the county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.3

Infractions, again, are punishable only by a fine, but no jail time.

Note that there are some crimes that a prosecutor can charge as either:

  • an infraction, or
  • a misdemeanor.

These crimes are known as wobblettes under California criminal law. A prosecutor decides which type of crime to charge by considering a defendant's:

  1. criminal history, and
  2. severity of his/her offense.

4. Can a defendant get a misdemeanor reduced to an infraction?

An accused person may be able to get a misdemeanor crime reduced to an infraction.

Penal Code 17d PC gives the court the authority to reduce some misdemeanors to infractions.4

The prosecutor also has authority to reduce charges. This typically happens through a plea agreement defense counsel. 

A reduction can even happen if a crime is not a wobblette. This means even straight misdemeanors can get reduced to infractions.

Example: Paco is charged with petty theft after stealing his neighbor's watch. This crime is a straight misdemeanor in California. It is not a felony, an infraction, or even a wobblette.

Prior to trial, the prosecutor and Paco's defense attorney discuss the case. The defense lawyer mentions that Paco has no prior record. He works full time and supports a family. The prosecutor acknowledges this. He agrees to reduce Paco's misdemeanor offense to an infraction. As a result, Paco will avoid a criminal record. And probation and possible jail time.

Some common misdemeanors that get reduced to infractions are:

Note that a prosecutor will not agree to reduce a felony to an infraction.

5. What are some examples of infractions in California?

Most infractions in California are traffic or moving violations. Some examples are:

For additional help...

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Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

Need additional guidance? Or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney? We invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

For articles on infractions in Colorado, please see the following:

Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 16.

  2. California Penal Code 19.8.

  3. California Penal Code 19.

  4. California Penal Code 17d.

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