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What is the Difference between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

What is the Difference between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

Misdemeanors vs. Felonies

Felonies and misdemeanors are criminal offenses and both can mean incarceration for anyone convicted of either. Less serious and nonviolent crimes are typically charged as misdemeanors, while the most serious offenses are felonies. Also, a particular crime may be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony depending upon the severity of the offense, the status of the victim, the offender’s intent, and the criminal record of the accused. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can often persuade a prosecutor to reduce a charge to a misdemeanor if there are mitigating circumstances.

Most misdemeanor offenses consist of probation or a few days to a few months of incarceration. Fines are generally under $1,000. If a defendant is sentenced to jail, he or she will usually spend time in the county facility that will not exceed one year, while a felon can do time in either a county facility or the state prison. Fines for a felony can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for some offenses.

Examples of Misdemeanor Offenses

  • Drunk driving
  • Trespass
  • Simple assault
  • Theft under a certain amount
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Lesser degree of burglary
  • Vandalism
  • Speeding
  • Reckless driving
  • Driving with a revoked or suspended license
  • Most traffic offenses

There are also enhanced degrees of misdemeanors such first or second degree, or aggravated misdemeanors that carry more serious fines and usually compulsory jail time.

Although a misdemeanor offense is subject to being proved by the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt, not all jurisdictions offer jury trials for every misdemeanor offense, nor do they offer a free court-appointed attorney for an indigent defendant.

Also, misdemeanors are more easily expunged from a criminal record after a certain period than felonies. A criminal defense attorney can advise you as to which offenses can be expunged and the timelines involved.

Examples of Felony Offenses

  • Homicide
  • Robbery
  • Sexual assault
  • Domestic violence
  • Drunk driving that results in serious bodily injury
  • Identity theft
  • Bank fraud
  • Child abuse
  • Most drug offenses
  • Weapons charges

Most crimes in which the sentence is more than one year is a felony. Serious crimes that involve violence, drugs, firearms, dangerous weapons, serious injuries or death, and kidnapping are felonies. Significant property crimes are usually felonies as well.

There are some felonies that carry mandatory minimum sentences with no possibility of parole until the minimum time is served. Many states also require convicted felons to spend at least 85 percent of their sentence for certain offenses before becoming eligible for parole.

In some cases, a felony conviction can result in probation or an alternative to prison such as house arrest and/or electronic monitoring. There are circumstances when a criminal defense lawyer can successfully argue for an alternative sentence.

Consequences of a Felony Conviction

A felony conviction can drastically affect someone’s life. It may prevent them from obtaining a professional license and usually results in forfeiting one. Convicted felons may not vote in some states and none may ever own or possess a firearm. A felony record can also adversely affect your ability to find employment, rent an apartment, get a security clearance, or travel. If you are charged with a felony, getting the best possible criminal defense attorney on your side is essential.

Sexual offenders must register their identities, address, and employment for a number of years, or for life in some cases, with the local authorities in any district where they can live. Many jurisdictions restrict sex offenders from living within a certain distance of schools or parks.

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