What's the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?

There are two types of crimes: misdemeanors and felonies. It can be easy to mix up the two, as some crimes, like assault, could be a misdemeanor or a felony. However, misdemeanors and felonies have very different penalties, with felonies being much more serious. If you are charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, you should hire a Florence criminal defense attorney. Even though you're likely going to be hiring an attorney, you should familiarize yourself with the differences between misdemeanors and felonies so that you know what to expect. Read on to learn more about the differences between misdemeanors and felonies.

What is a misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is a minor crime, usually of a non-violent nature. However, assaults that do not result in serious bodily injury may be classified as misdemeanors. Misdemeanors may also include shoplifting, trespassing, and disorderly conduct. Even most DUI charges are misdemeanors, though suspects may be charged with a felony DUI if they are repeat offenders or if someone is seriously hurt. Misdemeanors are more serious than infractions like speeding tickets. However, they are much less serious than felonies. Misdemeanors usually result in a fine, probation, or community service. It is possible for someone to spend up to one year in jail on a misdemeanor charge, but this is very unlikely.

The categories of misdemeanors

There are three categories of misdemeanors: Class A, Class B, and Class C. The classes are ranked from least to most serious, with Class A misdemeanors receiving the harshest penalties and Class C misdemeanors receiving the least serious penalties.

The consequences of misdemeanors

Misdemeanors, even the most serious Class A misdemeanors, do not result in restrictions on civil liberties. Those convicted of misdemeanors can still vote, run for office, buy guns, and more. Also, most prospective employers will not disqualify an applicant from consideration due to a misdemeanor conviction.

What is a felony?

Felonies are the most serious crimes. These crimes are often violent in nature, such as rape, murder, assault with serious bodily harm, and armed robbery. However, there are many non-violent felonies, such as fraud. Many sex crimes are also classified as felonies. Felonies result in much harsher penalties than misdemeanors. Also, felons lose multiple civil liberties. See below for more details about felonies.

The various classes of felony

There are five different classes of felonies. These categories include Class A, Class B, Class C, Class D, and Class E. Class E felonies are the least serious and usually result in a jail sentence of between one and five years. Class B felonies are the second-most serious, as these crimes can result in jail sentences of over 25 years. Class A felonies are the worst crimes, such as murder. Class A felonies can result in life imprisonment or even the death penalty, depending on the jurisdiction. In addition to prison sentences, felonies often result in large fines that can be $100,000 or more.

Convicted felons lose many civil liberties

Convicted felons will face additional penalties along with their prison sentences and fines. Felons lose many civil liberties that are enjoyed by non-felons. For example, felons lose the right to vote, own a firearm, and run for office for a specified length of time. Felons convicted of sex crimes may also have to register in a sex offender database, which would place restrictions on where they are allowed to live. It is also worth keeping in mind that many employers, especially white-collar employers, are not open to hiring convicted felons. Thus, the penalties for being convicted of a felony extend far beyond a prison term.

Getting bail

In addition to differences in the severity of punishment, the process of getting bail is different for misdemeanors and felonies. If someone is arrested for a misdemeanor, the judge may rule that they can be released on recognizance. This essentially means that the person who has been arrested has to give their word that they will show up in court. If they do not show up for their court date, the court will issue a warrant for their arrest. 

Someone who has been indicted for a more serious misdemeanor, such as simple assault, may have to pay a bond to be released on bail. Bail for misdemeanors is usually less than $25,000. Generally, bail bond will be 10% of the bail. For example, a bail bond for $25,000 bail would cost $2,500.

Those charged with felonies will not be released on recognizance. Also, bail is much more expensive for felonies. It is difficult to pinpoint what bail for a felony will be as it is largely based on the opinion of a judge. However, it is not unusual for bail to be $100,000 or more in a felony case. Some alleged felons may not be offered bail at all if they have been charged with murder or other Class A felonies. Even if an alleged felon does make bail, they often must deal with harsher conditions (such as not being allowed to travel to another city).

Finding the right attorney

Finding the right attorney will greatly increase the chances of a favorable outcome in the accused’s case, whether it is a misdemeanor or felony charge. It is important to look for an experienced criminal defense attorney. Many criminal defense attorneys specialize in one area of criminal law, such as defending those accused of DUI. This means that many people who have been accused of crimes can find an attorney that specializes in similar cases.

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