By Jedidiah McKeehan

As complicated as the criminal justice may seem, there are really only three different levels of offenses: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies.

An infraction is something simple like a speeding ticket or a moving violation, where a police officer will write you a ticket and you are required to pay a fine or maybe even show up in court. The offenses are punishable by a monetary means only.  If you face any jail time at all, then it’s not an infraction, its something else.  Also, you are not entitled to an appointed attorney on infractions because you are not facing potential jail time.

Now, if you don’t take care of your infraction, like you miss a court date or you don’t pay your fine, you could face additional charges such as a failure to appear charge, but until that happens all you are looking at is only monetary reparations.

A misdemeanor is punishable by jail time up to 11 months and 29 days (less than one year) and ranges from class A to class C.

A class C misdemeanor would be something like criminal trespassing or public intoxication. A class C misdemeanor is the lowest level misdemeanor, and is punishable by no more than 30 days in jail.

A class B misdemeanor, on the other hand, is punishable by up to 6 months in jail.  A couple of class B misdemeanors are prostitution and littering.

The most common class A misdemeanor is DUI: First Offense.  You potentially face just under one year and jail, not to mention probation, and a whole bunch of fines.

Felonies includes everything above a misdemeanor and range from Class E to Class A.  These are criminal charges that are punishable for a year or greater.

A class E felony, which the lowest level, is something like statutory rape or cruelty to animals and is usually punishable by 1 to 2 years in jail.

The highest class of felony offenses is A, and those individuals face anywhere from 15 to 60 years in jail….if not the death penalty.

In the State of Tennessee, if you are a convicted felon or agree to plead to a felony charge, then you are forever prevented from owning or carrying a firearm, serving on a jury, or voting in an election.  This is not the case in every state, but that is the current law in Tennessee.

Another thing to consider is this: if you are convicted of or plead to a felony charge, then you will most likely not have to serve the entirety of the time on which you are convicted.  Many times when an individual enters a plea on a felony charge, they don’t spend one day in jail. They are sent out on probation.

Due to the severe overcrowding in our jails, probation and parole are used to keep individuals under supervision the state or the county.

When someone receives probation instead of their full sentence, it is called a suspended sentence. Those placed on probation still have to comply with its strict regulations, which include random drug screening and paying fees.  If individuals fail to comply with their probation, that is when they are most likely to serve a long period of their original sentence in jail.

Misdemeanors offer similar opportunities to avoid jail altogether. For example: On a DUI (first-time offense), most offenders serve somewhere between 48 hours to 10 days in jail.  This means you are pleading to a Class A misdemeanor, which carries with it up 11 months 29 days in jail, but you are only having to serve 48 hours typically on those charges and you are placed on probation for the remainder of the year.  BUT, if you violate your probation, then you could have to spend the rest of the year in jail.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.