If you have been charged with a crime, it is natural to want to know what sorts of penalties you can get if convicted. Therefore it is important to understand the difference misdemeanors and felonies, especially a class A misdemeanor and class A felony, which are generally the most serious crimes.
Some crimes can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies, depending upon the case factors. Consider:
- Assault: Threatening to harm someone but not taking action would generally be called a misdemeanor in most states. However, following through with assault that causes serious bodily injury or death, or where a weapon was used, would likely be considered a serious felony.
- Theft: Petty theft is the illegal taking of money or property without consent. Whether it is a serious misdemeanor or felony hinges upon the value of the property. Many states state that theft of property up to $500 is a misdemeanor, while anything above that is varying degrees of felony. Some states refer to this crime with higher values of property as larceny.
- Indecent exposure: Exposing your genitals in public is usually considered a misdemeanor. But if you commit such exposure before a child, then the crime is probably a felony. Different states have different ages of victim to draw the line between misdemeanor and felony.
- Traffic crimes: Most traffic crimes are misdemeanors. But traffic violations can be felonies when serious bodily harm or death is involved. Repeat DUI convictions also can rise to the level of felony, especially when there is serious injury or death.
Class A Misdemeanor Overview
Misdemeanors are criminal infractions that generally carry up to one year in jail in most states. Anything more than that is generally defined as some degree of felony in most states. Misdemeanor punishments also can include fines, probation, community service and victim restitution. Defendants who are charged with most misdemeanors generally can get a jury trial. Most states categorize misdemeanors by various classes or degrees. The classification of the misdemeanor determines how severe the punishment will be.
A class A or first degree misdemeanor is the most serious type in most states. Generally, A is the most serious and D is the least serious. Some of the most common types of class A or first degree misdemeanors in many states include:
- Assault resulting in bodily injury
- DUI/DWI without serious bodily injury or death
- Misdemeanor domestic violence
- Reckless driving
- Resisting arrest
- Possession of a controlled substance
- Property theft over $1,000
- Harboring a runaway child
- Deadly conduct
- Making a false report
- Unlawful possession of a weapon
- Violating a restraining order
Often, very little separates this type of misdemeanor from being a felony. For instance, say there is a fist fight where you throw a punch that hurts the other person, but nothing else happens. This could be a class A misdemeanor assault. But if the other person falls and hits his head on the pavement and suffers a brain injury, this could be charged as a felony.
To get a better idea about what a class A or first degree misdemeanor is in each state, below are some examples:
- Alabama: A class A misdemeanor can be punished by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $6000. Some of the examples of this misdemeanor include indecent exposure, third time DUI, third degree domestic violence and sexual misconduct.
- Arizona: A class 1 misdemeanor can be punished by up to 180 days in jail. For example, owners of dogs who have a biting history and do not make reasonable attempts to prevent the dog from biting others.
- Connecticut: A class A misdemeanor in the state can be punished by up to one year in jail. For example, someone who possesses a personal identifying information access device, such as a credit card, with the idea of altering the information to commit fraud, is a class A misdemeanor.
- Florida: A first degree misdemeanor may be punished by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1000. An example is theft of property valued at more than $100 but less than $300.
- Illinois: These misdemeanors may be punished by up to a year in jail. For example, a person who knowingly enters without authority a vehicle has committed criminal trespass.
- Minnesota: The most serious type in this state is a gross misdemeanor which can be punished by a year in jail. An example of a gross misdemeanor is allowing a child to be in a place where drugs are sold, manufactured or possessed.
- North Carolina: State law states that class AI misdemeanors are the most serious, such as battery on an unborn child or breaking and entering.
- Texas: A class A misdemeanor may be punished by up to a year in jail. An example under Texas law is harassment which is being committed by a person with a prior conviction for the same crime.
Class A misdemeanors generally can be punished by fines from $500 to $5000, up to a year in jail, community service and rehabilitation programs. Most states require a class A misdemeanor to stay on your criminal record forever, unless you can qualify to have the record expunged or sealed. Depending upon the state and how serious the crime is, not all class A misdemeanors can be expunged.
Note that some states, such as California, do not classify misdemeanors by numbers or classes. Instead, the laws of California assignment punishment on a crime by crime standard. If there is no punishment in the statute, the offense may be punished by up to 180 days in jail and a $1000 fine.
Class A Felony Overview
Felonies are more serious crimes than misdemeanors, and class A felonies are the most serious of all crimes. Most states classify felonies into class A, class B and class C. Class A felonies are for the most serious types of crimes:
- Involuntary servitude of a minor
The major difference between a class A misdemeanor and a class A felony essentially come down to punishment. Punishments for felonies are usually the most serious for the class A variety. For many crimes, a class A felony may result in a life in prison sentence. Also, these types of felonies result in heavy fines of $100,000 or even more, with minimum prison sentences usually of five or 10 years. Those who are convicted of murder may even face the death penalty. Meanwhile, a class A misdemeanor typically has a maximum sentence of only a year in jail and much smaller fines.
Another major difference between these crimes are the civil consequences for class A felonies. For many of these very serious crimes, depending upon the state, you can face these sanctions:
- Loss of voting rights
- Loss of the right to keep and bear arms. Most people convicted of a first degree or class A felony are permanently barred from owning firearms
- Loss of driving rights. It is common for someone convicted of a class A felony for drunk driving resulting in death or serious injury to lose their driver’s license for years, or permanently.
- Loss of child custody or visitation. This penalty can be imposed if you are deemed a threat, and/or the crime you committed involved a child
- Loss of jury duty: Most states prohibit the convicted from serving on a jury until their sentence is complete
Below are some examples of class A felonies and punishments by state:
- Alabama: Class A felonies in this state include murder, rape, first degree burglary, first degree kidnapping, arson and first degree domestic violence. Prison sentence is at least 10 years and up to life or 99 years. Fines can be as high as $60,000.
- Illinois: This state has class X as the most serious type of felony, and includes murder, rape and battery with a firearm. Punishment is 30 to 60 years in prison with fines of up to $25,000.
- New York: The most serious felony in this state is class A-I, with a sentence of 15 to 40 years. Murder and rape are class A-I felonies.
- North Carolina: The most serious felony in North Carolina is a class A felony with a maximum sentence of death or life without parole. Murder is the major class A felony in this state, while rape is classified as class B1, and kidnapping is class C.
- Michigan: Class A felonies in this state may be punished by up to life in prison, and include first and second degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to steal or rob, kidnapping, and first degree criminal sexual conduct.
- Tennessee: A class A felony in Tennessee includes aggravated rape or murder. These crimes may be punished by life imprisonment or death in some cases, and 15 to 60 years in prison in others.
- Felonies and Misdemeanors Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/crimes-felonies-misdemeanors-infractions-classification-33814.html