Public offenses are divided into three major categories, depending on their severity:

Infractions

An infraction is the least severe public offense with which a person can be charged. An infraction is not punishable by imprisonment, and a person charged with an infraction is not entitled to a trial by jury. A person charged with an infraction is generally not entitled to have the public defender or other counsel appointed at public expense to represent him or her. In most cases, the defendant is simply cited and released on his or her own promise to appear in court at the appointed time. Examples of common infractions are traffic code violations and building code violations. They are not normally considered criminal offenses.

Misdemeanors

A misdemeanor is less severe than a felony, but unlike an infraction, it is a criminal offense. Unless a different punishment is prescribed by the specific code section, every misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both. A person convicted of multiple misdemeanors may be sentenced to county jail for up to a year, and fined separately for each misdemeanor.

Felonies

Felonies are the most severe criminal offenses. A felony is a crime which is punishable with death or by imprisonment in the state prison. Unless a different punishment is prescribed by the specific code section, a felony is punishable by imprisonment in state prison for 16 months, or two or three years. If more than one felonious act is charged, more than one such sentence may be imposed.

A person may be charged with violation of multiple infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies in a single case.

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