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Infraction as a general term means a violation of a rule or local ordinance or regulation, promise or obligation.

United States law

An 'infraction' in legal sense is a summary offence, or "petty" violation of the law less serious than a misdemeanor, and usually does not attach certain individual rights such as a jury trial. It is sometimes called a minor offense, minor violation, petty offense, or frequently citation, and sometimes used as synonymous with violation, regulatory offense, welfare offense, or contravention.

Typically, an infraction is a violation of a rule or local ordinance or regulation

Some refer to an infraction as quasi-criminal, because conviction for an infraction is generally not associated with the loss of liberty, and are often considered civil cases. Nonetheless, in the United Statesmarker, most infractions are indeed violations of statutory law, but in differing with criminal law where the burden of proof is Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, the standard for the civil infraction differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, some jurisdictions require proof beyond a reasonable doubt while others may only require proof by a preponderance of evidence.

Infraction is a term in United States law; it is not a term commonly used in the United Kingdommarker or other countries following English common law.

Punishments for infractions

In the United States, the key characteristic of an infraction is that the punishment seldom includes any amount of incarceration in a prison or jail or any other loss of civil rights typically the only punishment is a fine, although sometimes other regulatory actions are possible (e.g. revocation of a license or permit) or an order to remedy or mitigate the situation. According to the USC title 18 Part II Chapter 227 the fine for an infraction is not to exceed $5000 (although normally less than $1000) and the maximum prison sentence is 5 days of incarceration, and common law puts the maximum incarceration at 6 months for local jurisdictions.

Mechanics of adjudicating infractions

The power to cite persons for infractions is usually left with administrative officials; it is often not necessary to hold a court hearing in which case a citation is the same as a conviction.

Examples of infractions include jaywalking, littering, violations of municipal code (such as building or housing), disturbing the peace, or falsification of information. In many jurisdictions today, minor traffic violations have been decriminalize and classified as infractions. For example, in Kern County, Californiamarker (a county in which Interstate 5 crosses its western edge), large numbers of speeders are ticketed every year while travelling between the Los Angelesmarker Area and the San Francisco Bay Areamarker for excess of 100mph. This is generally considered an infraction resulting in only a fine. In the state of Oregonmarker, possession of less than one ounce of cannabis (marijuana) is an infraction rather than a crime.

Nowadays, many jurisdictions allow first time offenses for minor misdemeanors including trespassing, petty theft, disorderly conduct, and marijuana possession to be reduced to infractions, or municipal ordinance violations, allowing the defendant to avoid having a criminal record which would otherwise jeopardize his long term prospects. This is particularly true if the defendant received only a citation instead of being arrested. However, by allowing a first time misdemeanor offense to be reduced to an infraction, this could also serve as an aggravating factor if the person were to be caught committing another crime (e.g., person would not be eligible for a diversion program).

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References

  • Black's Law Dictionary, ISBN 0-314-25791-8



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