Infraction: Legal Definition, Severity and Penalties

What is an Infraction?

An infraction is a breach or violation of a specific law or regulation, often considered a minor offence in legal contexts, which typically does not result in criminal charges but may lead to fines, administrative penalties, or other corrective measures.

Infraction Legal Definition

An infraction is a law, rule, or regulation breach or violation. It is commonly used in legal contexts to describe minor violations that don’t necessarily warrant severe penalties.

They are typically non-criminal, meaning they don’t result in jail time or a criminal record. Instead, they often result in fines or other administrative penalties.

The term often pops up in the vast realm of rules, regulations, and laws. But what does it mean? Is it just another word for a violation, or does it carry a deeper significance?

Examples include:

  • Speeding tickets
  • Parking violations
  • Littering
  • Jaywalking

Infraction vs Misdemeanor vs Felony

To understand better, it is essential to differentiate them from other legal terms like misdemeanours and felonies.

  • Infraction: As mentioned, infractions are minor violations. They don’t lead to criminal records and are usually resolved by paying a fine. No court appearance is often required unless the individual wishes to contest it.
  • Misdemeanour: This is a more serious offence but less severe than a felony. Misdemeanours can result in jail time, typically less than a year, resulting in a criminal record. Examples include petty theft, public intoxication, and simple assault.
  • Felony: Felonies are the most severe type of crime. They can lead to long prison sentences and have lasting implications on an individual’s rights, such as voting or owning firearms. Examples of felonies include murder, rape, and armed robbery.

What Is The Difference Between A Civil And Criminal Infraction?

A civil infraction pertains to disputes between individuals or entities, often involving personal injury, property damage, or contractual disagreements, and typically results in monetary compensation or specific performance. In contrast, a criminal infraction involves a breach of laws set by the government, indicating a wrong against society.

Infraction - minor offence - small offence - criminal offence - criminal law - what is infraction

While civil infractions might lead to fines or orders to rectify a situation, criminal infractions can result in penalties like fines, probation, or even imprisonment.

Essentially, civil infractions address private disputes, while criminal infractions concern violations of public laws and can carry more severe consequences.

What Is The Process of Contesting An Infraction In Court?

Contesting an infraction in court involves a series of steps to challenge the validity of the violation. Initially, the individual must notify the relevant authority, often within a specified timeframe, of their intent to dispute the infraction. This is typically done by marking the appropriate box on the citation and mailing it back.

Once received, the court schedules a hearing date. On the appointed day, the individual, often referred to as the defendant, presents their case before a judge or magistrate. They can provide evidence, call witnesses, or hire legal representation to bolster their defence.

The issuing officer or authority representative may also be present to justify the infraction. After hearing both sides, the judge renders a decision which could result in the dismissal of the infraction, reduction of penalties, or upholding the original violation. If successful, it can be dismissed or the penalties reduced.

Some jurisdictions allow the defendant to appeal the decision to a higher court if dissatisfied.

Differences Between An Infraction, Misdemeanour And Felony

InfractionLeast severeTypically, fines or citationsTraffic violations (e.g., speeding), littering
MisdemeanourModerateFines, probation, and/or jail timePetty theft, simple assault, driving under the influence (DUI)
FelonyMost severeSubstantial prison time or finesMurder, rape, grand theft, drug trafficking
Infraction vs Misdemeanor vs Felony

Legal Implications

While minor offences in the grand scheme of legal violations are not without consequences. Here are some legal implications:

  • Financial Penalties: Most infractions come with a fine. For example, a speeding ticket can range from a few dollars to several hundred, depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the violation.
  • Points on Driving Record: Traffic infractions can add points to your driving record. Accumulating too many points can lead to higher insurance premiums or even the suspension of your driver’s license.
  • Community Service: In some cases, especially if it is a repeated offence, the individual might be required to perform community service.
  • Educational Programs: For certain offences, like littering or minor environmental violations, the offender might be required to attend educational programs to understand the impact of their actions.

Do Infractions Show Up On Background Checks?

Infractions, being minor violations, typically do not appear on most standard background checks. However, their visibility can depend on the type of background check conducted and the jurisdiction. For instance, traffic offences might appear on a driving record check but not on a general criminal background check.

It is also worth noting that while infractions usually do not result in a criminal record, unpaid fines or unresolved cases can escalate, potentially leading to warrants or more severe records that might appear in checks.

Employers or entities conducting thorough checks, especially those related to specific fields like transportation, might access and consider such details.


Infractions are crucial in maintaining order and ensuring that individuals adhere to societal norms and regulations. They act as a deterrent, reminding people of the importance of following rules for the greater good.

However, like all legal matters, it is essential to understand your rights and the implications of any infractions you might receive. Being informed is the first step to navigating the complex world of breaking rules, regulations, and the consequences.

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