For most states or jurisdictions, criminal offenses are categorized into two broad categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Knowing the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony can prove invaluable especially when you or a person you know has been charged with a crime as it will be easier to understand the provisions for plea agreements and any likely punishments if convicted.
Generally, misdemeanors are considered as crimes of a less serious nature. They include petty crimes that are often punished with a fine or just a warning with no jail time. Some states have classes of misdemeanors depending on the severity of the crime committed with more serious crimes categorized as first degree misdemeanors and the less serious crimes as second and then third-degree misdemeanors.
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Misdemeanors attract fines and sometimes some jail time usually under one year depending on the crime committed. If one commits two or more misdemeanors, multiple charges can be filed simultaneously and the jail time maybe structured to run consecutively for them as opposed to running concurrently in some cases. This may result in one spending more than one year in jail if the consecutive sentences add up to more than one year. Because misdemeanors are less serious offenses, jail time is usually served in the county or local jail rather than being sent to a state or federal correctional facility.
Court proceedings for misdemeanors just run like other trials although some proceedings may be expedited. Jury trials can be available in some cases although they often feature smaller juries usually around six members. Although one can represent self during the hearings it is highly recommended that you secure an attorney even if you think the crime committed is less serious.
Felonies are crimes of a more serious nature such as murder, aggravated theft and rape. Felonies are also classified by degrees depending on the seriousness of the crime with a first-degree felony being the severest offense. Some states have legislation that requires a prosecutor to obtain a grand jury indictment before charging anyone a felony. Felonies are usually punished by heavy fines and may include prison time of over one year or even by death.
Persons accused of felonies are entitled to a trial by a jury. If the accused cannot afford an attorney in most jurisdictions the court will provide one. Trials usually feature smaller juries unless it is a matter where the death penalty or life in prison is the likely sentences. Persons convicted of felonies serve their sentences in federal or state correctional facilities.
Apart from paying heavy fines and serving longer jail times, persons convicted of felonies in some states cannot buy firearms/ammunition, serve on a jury or be employed in some professions. Furthermore, some criminal convictions whether misdemeanor or felony have additional consequences; such as having to register as a sex offender if you are convicted of a crime that has a sexual element. Being charged with any criminal offense whether a misdemeanor or a felony is, therefore, a very serious matter and it is recommended that you’re secure the services of a reputable attorney to help navigate the legal system.