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Throughout the United States, criminal offenses are divided into distinct categories by state criminal systems. Each of these categories is largely defined by the severity of the crime, the amount of jail time it can entail, and the magnitude of any associated fines or other penalties. A crime can be either an administrative infraction, a felony or a misdemeanor. Hiring a New York criminal attorney is essential when situations like this arise.
Felonies, Infractions And Misdemeanors: What’s The Difference?
Felonies are among the most serious of criminal offenses and thus, they entail the most severe punishments. Infractions are usually seen as minor slip-ups and generally result in little more than tickets and fines. Infractions are often traffic violations that result in fees of up to just $100 along with mandatory reimbursement of any related court costs. Misdemeanors, however, fall right in between infractions and felonies. While they aren’t considered to be as serious as felonies like kidnapping, arson, rape, burglary or murder, they can still result in up to one full year in jail and can have a significant and lasting impact on a person’s criminal record.
What Distinguishes Misdemeanors From Felonies?
The most common definition for a misdemeanor is any crime that is punishable by up to one full year in jail. Most commonly, jail time for a misdemeanor will be served in a local county jail rather than in a large, medium to high security prison. Assault, theft and indecent exposure are several examples of common misdemeanors. It is important to note, however, that a crime originally categorized as a misdemeanor may be charged as a felony after a second offense. For instance, a person who has been twice charged with misdemeanor shoplifting could be charged and sentenced for felony shoplifting, if arrested a third-time and if charged with stealing goods that are over a specific value.
Different Classes Of Misdemeanors
In addition to the three, primary classes of criminal offenses, there are also sub-classes within each category. These sub-classes vary state to state. For example, within the state of New York, certain misdemeanors bear the distinction of Class A misdemeanors, which come with a maximum penalty of one full year in jail. In this same state, Class B misdemeanors entail penalties that are not to exceed a total of three months of jail time. How misdemeanors are classified from state to state is largely determined by the impact that the criminal is likely to have on society going forward. This is why many repeat offenders for misdemeanor crimes are often charged as felons.
Among the most common misdemeanor crimes are traffic violations. These can include driving without a license, driving without insurance, speeding or driving while under the influence. Multiple DUI charges that are incurred over time are a very common example of how a misdemeanor crime might become a felony. With these repeat offenders, the potential risks of their criminal activities negatively impacting society increase with each new charge and thus, prosecutors become more likely to seek more severe penalties with each additional offense.
What is the Difference Between Felony and Misdemeanor Charges?
Here in the United States, crimes are divided into different classifications, depending on their severity. The courts use this system to determine how individual cases should be treated. The amount of time the offender could face in jail depends largely on what category the crime fits into.
The two most important categories are misdemeanors and felonies. Although felony crimes are the most serious of the two, state laws can vary significantly. What qualifies as a felony in one state might be considered a misdemeanor in another.
Misdemeanors are offenses that are more serious than minor infractions, but less serious than felonies. In most cases, they are crimes punishable by no more than a year in jail. In many cases, the offender can serve their time in a local county jail, rather than a high security prison. Prosecutors can have great flexibility when it comes to deciding which crimes will be charged, how the offender will be punished and what types of plea bargains will be considered. Examples of misdemeanor offenses include petty theft, vandalism and reckless driving.
Felonies are more serious crimes that are typically punished by prison sentences of more than a year. Since the sentences are more severe, court room procedures are more strictly followed to ensure that the defendants’ rights are protected. Felony offenses include crimes that are looked down upon the most by society, such as burglary, rape, kidnapping and murder.
Unfortunately, there are also crimes that can fall into either category. This may depend on where the crime occurs, whether or not a weapon was involved, or even partly on the prosecutor’s discretion. The term “wobbler” isn’t really a legal term, but rather a colloquial term, due to the nature of the crime. Whether a specific crime is a wobbler or not depends on the state in which it occurs. Crimes that may qualify as wobblers in some states include spousal battery, sexual battery and assault with a deadly weapon.
In addition to being either misdemeanors or felonies, most states classify these two types of crimes even further. For example, one offense may be labeled a “Class A” misdemeanor, while a more serious crime might qualify as a “Class C” felony. The punishment meted out would depend on which class the offense in question falls under, which can vary from one state to another.
– Fines. Certain misdemeanors are punished through a system of fines, according to what class the crime falls into. For example, a Class A misdemeanor might lead to a fine of up to $10,000 in one state, or significantly less in another. Felonies can also result in fines, but they are typically much larger.
– Jail. While a judge may decide that a particular misdemeanor does not warrant jail time, this is almost never the case with felonies. Jail terms for misdemeanors that do require incarceration are usually for less than one or two years. A felon can get anywhere from one year to life in prison, depending on the nature of the crime.
– Three-strikes laws. Currently, 28 states have three-strikes laws. These laws are designed to keep repeat felons off the streets. For example, an offender who is charged for the third time for assault and battery could end up serving 25 years in prison, or even life.
Regardless of whether a person is convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony, they will receive a permanent mark on their record that can cost them future employment opportunities and even some of their rights (such as the right to bear arms). While misdemeanors are less likely to affect one’s rights than felonies, it may become difficult to get the required licenses for certain types of employment. This is especially true if the crime in question is related to the offender’s chosen profession.
Fortunately, it is possible to get criminal records sealed or erased, under certain circumstances. The expungement process varies from one state to another, but it’s the closest a qualifying offender might get to receiving a fresh start. It should be noted that while the process has successfully benefited both misdemeanor and felony offenders, it’s much easier to get an expungement if you are a non-violent, first-time offender with a misdemeanor offense.
Criminal charges, whether felony or misdemeanor, can create a number of difficulties in your life. Hiring an attorney is one of the best ways to reduce this negative impact, while helping you better understand the case against you and what your legal options are.
There are five classes of felony in the state of New York. Those classes are A, B, C, D, and E. Many states only use three or four classes and often reserve murder charges for a special class, making classification reduction difficult. The extra classes allow latitude in case adjudication for both sides of the charge. Class A is generally reserved for murder charges or treason, which is a rare criminal charge. Class A felonies are often taken to trial for a variety of reasons, including charge severity and the potential for acquittal. Class B is normally reserved for homicide and other forms of violent crime, but can include drug trafficking when huge amounts of controlled substances are confiscated. Class C is actually the most common level of felony charge, even when the material case evidence may not support the state prosecutor’s classification. This means the prosecutor can bargain down and still not receive much criticism for being “soft on crime” or some other public response. Class D and E felony charges are the lowest range of felonies, usually applied in cases where the criminal activity is not malicious in nature but are technically in the felony category. This is the level where many Class C felony charges are finally prosecuted or bargained for settlement. Our criminal lawyers can help with all of these felony classes.
Felonies are clearly the legal situations that everyone wants to avoid. The problem is that there are five different levels of felony charges in New York state, which can create confusion. It also creates a legal possibility for amending the charges within the classes. Always remember that the state prosecutes felony charges and the municipality prosecutes misdemeanors. Felonies are prosecuted much more vigorously because the community wants the state to maintain a grip on serious criminal activity in one of the leading states in the union, with one the world’s most vibrant cities in New York City. State prosecutors mean business. However, prosecutors have the authority to reduce any felony by one level using their own discretion, and then even further if a criminal attorney can present your case in negotiating a settlement in a manner that cast reasonable doubt on criminal activity by the defendant.
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