What Is The Difference Between A Misdemeanor And A Felony?
A crime can either be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on how serious the offense is. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies and carry lighter penalties. Typically, such penalties may include less than a year in jail, community service, fines, rehabilitation and/or probation. Felonies, on the other hand, come with at least a year (and sometimes decades or even a lifetime) in prison. Legal procedures also differ between felonies and misdemeanors. With a misdemeanor, you will appear before the judge, but you won’t face a jury. With a felony, you will have to appear at an indictment or preliminary trial, and then potentially face a jury trial. A misdemeanor is a criminal offense that is less serious than a felony and more serious than an infraction. Misdemeanors are generally punishable by a fine and incarceration in a local county jail, unlike infractions which impose no jail time. Many jurisdictions separate misdemeanors into three classes: high or gross misdemeanors, ordinary misdemeanors, and petty misdemeanors. Petty misdemeanors usually contemplate a jail sentence of less than six months and a fine of $500 or less. The punishment prescribed for gross misdemeanors is greater than that prescribed for ordinary misdemeanors and less than that prescribed for felonies, which customarily impose state prison.
Flexible Treatment of Misdemeanors
Legislatures sometimes use such broad definitions to provide prosecutors and judges with flexibility in charging and sentencing for criminal conduct that calls for a punishment combining a fine normally assessed for a misdemeanor and an incarceration period normally given for a felony. Other states, under its felony sentencing realignment law, impose months of county jail rather than multi-year prison sentences for certain designated nonviolent felonies. Other states give their prosecutors discretion to charge some crimes as “wobblers,” meaning the district attorney or the judge can choose to pursue a single criminal matter as a misdemeanor or as a felony, with all the usual consequences attached to either one. Once the D.A. or the judge chooses to treat a crime as a misdemeanor or a felony, the appropriate rights and consequences then attach to the charge and the court will then follow either the misdemeanor or the felony trial and sentencing procedures for the charge.
Consequences of Misdemeanors
It’s important to note that misdemeanors, unlike infractions, are often considered “crimes of moral turpitude,” as they threaten jail rather than mere fines. This distinction gives a convicted misdemeanant significantly reduced chances for a scholarship or a good job. Nowadays, even a dismissed or uncharged arrest for a misdemeanor can destroy a person’s future job prospects. For this reason, it’s often best for someone charged with a misdemeanor to voluntarily return to the same court and ask for a “certified finding of factual innocence” to show to future employers. Knowing the consequences of a misdemeanor conviction and the best defenses to use in court is the job of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Some misdemeanor charges may even result in jail time, in addition to fines and other burdens, so it’s important to have the right advocate on your side.
In general, a felony can be defined as any criminal offense that results in a prison of one year or longer. They tend to be crimes that involve an element of violence and are considered harmful or dangerous to society. Felony crimes also include some of the most serious types of crimes that a person can commit, such as first-degree murder and arson. Felony offenses are generally classified based on the seriousness of the crime. Each state has its own statute that provides separate guidelines on how to categorize a particular felony offense in that state. For example, some states may classify first-degree murder as either a Class A or Class 1 felony. These levels are reserved for the most serious types of offenses and are those crimes which can result in the maximum punishment. The remaining classifications will continue in an orderly fashion (e.g., Class B or Class 2, Class C or Class 3, and so on). Basically, the most important things to remember about the degrees are that they help to determine a convicted defendant’s sentence, and the crimes lessen in severity the further away it is from the Class A or Class 1 level. For instance, a defendant convicted of a Class E felony will receive a much lower sentence and has committed a less serious crime than a person whose crime falls under the Class A felony designation. The laws of a particular state and the circumstances surrounding a case are two major elements that often factor into whether a crime will be charged as a felony or not. However, there are some criminal charges that most states tend to classify as a felony offense.
The following is a general list of felony crimes:
• Property crimes: Grand theft, arson, and vandalism.
• Drug offenses: Distributing, selling, or trafficking drugs.
• Sex crimes: Sexual assault and human trafficking.
• Violent offenses: First-degree murder, second-degree murder, and robbery.
• White collar crimes: Embezzlement, securities fraud, and tax evasion.
There are several factors that can influence the sentence for a felony conviction. Such factors can work both ways. For example, a judge may be more lenient when issuing a punishment for a first-time offender; especially, if the felony was a non-violent crime. In contrast, the judge will most likely not reduce a sentence if the defendant is a repeat offender and the felony committed resulted in serious harm to another person. A sentence can also be reduced if the defendant raises a successful defense. For instance, if the defendant is charged with felony assault, but the victim knowingly consented to the act, then the defendant can assert consent as a defense and may potentially get their sentence reduced. The laws of a state and the type of crime committed can also affect the sentencing a defendant receives. For example, there are certain crimes known as “wobblers” that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Which way the charges end up falling will depend on whether specific factors were present during commission of the crime.
For instance, if no aggravating factors exist (e.g., use of a deadly weapon, type of victim, etc.), then the defendant can argue that their sentence should be similar to those that apply to misdemeanors.
In addition to any criminal consequences, the defendant may also be faced with a civil lawsuit. This means that they may have to pay both criminal fines and civil damages. For example, a victim of domestic violence may press charges and sue the defendant for compensation. In this case, the defendant may be liable for compensating them for medical bills and lost wages. However, if the defendant can show their actions were done in self-defense or some other defense that causes the plaintiff to lose or their claims to become questionable, then the defendant may be able to get their civil penalties reduced or dropped.
Getting a felony expunged (i.e., removed) from a criminal record is an extremely difficult task. The general rule of thumb is that the more serious the crime committed, the less likely a person can have it expunged. Thus, felonies such as sex crimes, first-degree murder, and child pornography are typically not eligible for expungement. Some factors that make it more likely that the court will consider a request for expungement include if the person was a minor when the crime was committed, the nature of the crime charged, the amount of time that has passed since the conviction or arrest, and if they have completed all court-ordered requirements for their sentence. Note that there is a difference between when a defendant gets arrested for a felony versus when they are charged with a felony. A felony arrest simply means that the suspect is in custody based on the belief that they committed a felony. On the other hand, a felony charge means that an official legal proceeding has been initiated against the person.
A felon is a person who has been charged and convicted of a felony offense. This often means that they received a jail or prison sentence for at least one year and possibly longer. The legal penalties for felony convictions can be harsh, but what many people do not consider is the long-lasting impact that a conviction can have on a felon’s life; even after they have already served their sentence. Generally speaking, a felony conviction will remain on a person’s criminal record for the rest of their life. Having a record will make it difficult to find a job; gain custody rights over children, and can take away the right to vote in elections. Additionally, if a felon is charged and convicted of another crime in the future, their resulting punishment will most likely be more severe than their last (e.g., a longer prison sentence, higher fines, etc.). If you are facing charges for a felony offense, then you should strongly consider hiring a local criminal defense attorney for assistance. Your attorney will be able to explain how the laws in your state apply to your particular case, the consequences of a conviction, and the next steps you should take. In addition, your attorney can help you prepare and file documents with the court for your case, and can provide representation on your behalf as well. Your attorney will also be able to determine if there are any defenses you can raise against the charges and whether there is a possibility to have your charges reduced or dropped. Therefore, it would be in your best interest to consult an attorney. Without one, not only is there a higher risk of receiving a conviction, but you also miss out on the opportunity to argue for a lower sentence. As such, it is very likely that you could be looking at significant jail time and heavy criminal fines.
Examples of Felonies and Misdemeanors
In the Utah code, crimes are divided into two broad categories: misdemeanors and felonies. The distinction here is one of maximum punishment; misdemeanors are crimes that carry a maximum of one year of jail time and felonies are crimes with punishments in excess of 12 months of incarceration. A crime can have the same general classification but be broken down into several levels of severity, some of which may raise the seriousness from a misdemeanor to a felony.
A good example of multiple levels of severity is the general class of crime called assault. In the case of assault, threatening to cause harm to a person but not carrying through on the threat would be classified as a misdemeanor. This can carry jail time of six months to a year. Assault that resulted in actual bodily injury, or in which a weapon was used as part of the assault, would be considered a felony. Felony assault comes with anywhere from one year to 25 years in prison.
Disturbing the Peace
Disturbing the peace is another common charge. This charge comes in many forms, including fighting in a public place, bullying others, or mobilizing an unlawful public assembly. Disturbing the peace, also known as a break of peace, is almost always classified as a misdemeanor. Felony counts are rare, but possible, depending on the state and circumstances surrounding the crime. Given the many variations of this crime, jail time can also vary. The maximum penalty, however, is one year in jail.
Crimes relating to drugs can also be classified as misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors usually pertain to simple drug possession charges. Things advance to felonies when they involve more than simple possession. This can include possession of a large quantity of drugs or intent to sell. The quantity required to progress from a misdemeanor to a felony varies from state to state. In Utah, for example, one can face a year in jail for simple possession, as well as notable fines. If, however, you’re found with a large quantity or deemed to have an intent to sell, one can face multiple years in state or federal prison.
Theft is another great example of a crime that has differing levels of severity. Petty theft is the unlawful taking of property or money from another person without their consent. The distinction between whether theft is a misdemeanor or a felony is dependent on the value of the cash or property stolen. Many states classify theft of up to $500 as a misdemeanor and theft of larger amounts as a felony. If convicted of a misdemeanor, possible jail time can include one year behind bars. Felony theft is also referred to as larceny. Grand larceny, or grand theft, may also be on the table if the theft exceeds a value of $1,000 or more. Grand larceny is a felony. You may have heard of “grand theft auto” in reference to stealing a car.
Other crimes are distinguished as being misdemeanors or felonies depending on against whom the crime is committed. Indecent exposure falls into this category. Exposing one’s private parts in public in such a way as to alarm others is considered to be a misdemeanor. However, if the exposure is before a child, then the crime rises to the level of a felony. Different states set different age limits as to where the line exists between misdemeanor and felony indecent exposure. In Utah, whether someone’s charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, they will be labeled as a sex offender for the rest of their lives.
In most instances, traffic violations are classified as misdemeanors. Examples of misdemeanor traffic violations include:
• Driving without a license
• Driving without insurance
• Driving under the influence (DUI)
Felony traffic violations include leaving the scene of an accident and vehicular homicide. These violations can come with anywhere from one year to life in prison. Another potential felony traffic infraction is repeated DUIs. In this case, many states upgrade repeated charges of DUI from misdemeanor to felony status. While the criminal act being committed is the same, multiple violations can result in a felony charge that carries harsher punishments.
Criminal Law Lawyer
When you need a Felony or Misdemeanor Attorney, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506