Many individuals who have been arrested, particularly if it’s for a first offense, wonder what the difference between a misdemeanor charge and a felony charge.
Simply put, a felony charge is more serious than a misdemeanor, although that is something of an oversimplification. The US federal government generally considers a crime punishable with incarceration for not more than one year, or lesser penalty, to be a misdemeanor. All other crimes are considered felonies and many states also employ the same or a similar distinction.
There is sometime an overlap between the two to the extent that one can ‘become’ another. In the United States, even if a criminal charge for the defendant’s conduct is normally a misdemeanor, sometimes a repeat offender will be charged with a felony offense such as when a person commits a crime for the first time, like spousal assault, it will be a misdemeanor but it will be a felony for a second offense.
Some misdemeanors may be upgraded to felonies based on the particular circumstances relating to the commission of the offense. For example, in some jurisdictions the crime of indecent exposure might normally be classified as a misdemeanor, but be charged as a felony when committed in front of a minor.
Misdemeanor vs. Felony
Both misdemeanor and felony charges in the state of Florida are further divided into classes, depending on the seriousness of the crime and the potential penalties (see below).ies:
Misdemeanor crimes can be punished with up to a year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. They will be dealt with at County Court level, compared to felonies which will be dealt with in the Circuit Courts.
If you’re convicted of a felony, then you could be facing a minimum of a year in prison. But both misdemeanors and felonies are broken down into subcategories.
These are the maximum limits for each categorization with the most serious misdemeanor being a ‘first degree’ misdemeanor and when the penalties are governed by State statutes:
- 2nd-Degree Misdemeanor – 60 days in jail and $500 in fines
- 1st-Degree Misdemeanor – 1 year in jail and $1000 in fines
- 3rd-Degree Felony – 5 years in prison and $5,000 in fines
- 2nd-Degree Felony – 15 years in prison and $10,000 in fines
- 1st-Degree Felony – 30 years in prison and $10,000 in fines
- Life Felony – Life in Prison and $15,000 in fines
- Capital Felony – The death penalty
There are many crimes that are either misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the circumstances. Here are a few examples:
- Petit theft for property that is valued under $300 is a misdemeanor, while grand theft, which is charged for property values over $300, is a felony.
- Possession of marijuana for under 20 grams is a misdemeanor in Florida, but a felony for any amount over 20 grams.
- A first DUI is a misdemeanor (barring aggravating circumstances, like an accident with injuries), but with two prior convictions, it’s charged as a felony. All other illicit narcotics are charged as felonies in the state of Florida.
- Criminal mischief (vandalism) is charged as a misdemeanor in the state of Florida if the damage is under $1,000, but as a felony when the damage is over $1,000.
What You Should do if You’re Charged With a Misdemeanor or Felony
In addition to the above-listed penalties, all arrests go on your criminal record. If you’re convicted of a crime, it can bar you from employment and education opportunities. Some criminal convictions can affect professional licensing. Even something as common as a DUI arrest can lead to jail, fines, and loss of your driving privileges. But a criminal defense lawyer may be able to help.
Professional criminal defense lawyers can often pick apart the prosecutorial case and get your charges reduced or dropped. The state often has leeway on sentencing and can offer lighter sentences in exchange for a guilty plea. If not, your criminal defense lawyer can defend you in court.
Effective Criminal Defense Strategies
Here are some of the criminal defense strategies that attorneys use to defend their clients:
- Challenge the legality of the stop
- Show that the search was illegal
- Prove that the defendant’s statement was coerced
- Suppress evidence that was unlawfully obtained
- Disprove witness identification of the accused
- Demonstrate that the probable cause was flawed or that a crime was not committed.
For more answers about misdemeanor and felony crimes, go to strolenylaw.com.
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