Civil infractions: A civil infraction is a minor violation. Many traffic violations are civil infractions, such as speeding, failure to signal, etc. The punishment for a civil infraction is usually a fine, there is no jail time. Simple possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a civil infraction.
Felonies: The following definition applies only in Massachusetts courts, the Federal courts may use a different definition. Any crime punishable by confinement in a State prison are felonies; all other crimes are misdemeanors. You can find the punishment for a crime in the Massachusetts' statutes, the laws written by legislature. The law will set forth the maximum punishment that you can receive for a crime but the law will not list the many alternative or lesser punishments that are often actually imposed. Therefore, if the crime you are charged with allows you to be sent to state prison as a punishment, it is a felony regardless of the actual punishment you receive. Examples of felonies are murder, arson, rape, drunk driving 3rd or more offense, kidnapping, etc.
Misdemeanors: Crimes that are not punishable under Massachusetts' statutes by confinement in a State prison are misdemeanors. If the punishment described in the law for a particular crime does not include the possibility of state prison time, it is a misdemeanor. Examples of misdemeanors are disorderly conduct, fishing and hunting violations, first or second drunk driving offenses, most criminal motor vehicle offenses, etc.
Tip: To find out whether your charge is a misdemeanor or a felony, look at the charging document and find the statutory cite for the crime. For example, it should include words "General Laws, chapter" or the initials G.L. c. and the word "section" or the symbol for section, §. Use that citation to find the crime in the Master Crime List . The list will include the citation for the crime that you found on your document, the title of the crime, and then a column called “Penalty,” which will tell you if the crime is a misdemeanor or felony. You can also find the law itself online or at the law library, then read the punishment to determine if it is a felony or misdemeanor.
Part 2: Arraignment or First Appearance in Court
- Can court staff help me?
- What should I wear to court?
- Where should I go when I arrive at the court building?
- What should I do when I enter the arraignment courtroom?
- What conduct is expected in the courtroom?
- Who are the people in the courtroom?
- What will happen at my arraignment?
- What is bail (or bond)?
- When can I first talk to my court appointed lawyer?
- Can I dispose of my case at arraignment?
- What happens when I talk to the prosecutor (during a break in my court appearance) about resolving my case?
- Can my case be continued?
- What could my punishment be?
- What happens if I am charged with a crime but I am not a United States citizen?
- What is the difference between civil infractions, misdemeanors and felonies?
- What happens if my case is not resolved at arraignment?
- What should I do before I leave court?
- Part 3: Pre-Trial, Trial and Verdict