All over the country, criminal systems have different categories of crimes that denote their seriousness. These categories are important, because they guide the courts on how to treat cases. Hence, people also need to know the difference, because it will determine how much jail time or other penalties they can expect if found guilty.
Distinguishing between Felony and Misdemeanor Crimes
The biggest difference between these two categories lies in the penalties that can be imposed. As such, the division between the two lies not in whether or not someone will go to jail, but rather how long, and what type of prison. If the state where the crime is committed is one that maintains the death penalty, only felonies are punishable by death. In other states, including Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and New York, a felony is any crime that can lead to in excess of one year in jail. Others, such as Wisconsin and Arizona, classify a felony as a crime in which someone can be sent to the penitentiary (state prison) rather than a county jail.
Both felony and misdemeanor crimes are crimes that can be punishable by incarceration. This is where they differ from infractions, in other words. However, which crimes should be charged, what the associated penalties are, and whether plea bargains are available is flexible and depends on the state in which the offense was committed. Of particular importance is also the fact that, because felonies are more serious crimes, it is vital that all court procedures are followed properly, so as to protect the rights of the defendant.
Felony or Misdemeanor Battery
Battery charges, including domestic violence, can be either a felony or misdemeanor, depending on a number of different factors. In states like California, for instance, a variety of different laws have been developed to determine which of the two is applicable. In Nebraska, meanwhile, seven different classes of misdemeanor have been specified, with the most serious being Class I ($1,000 fine and one year in jail). In all states, a misdemeanor battery charge is not as bad as a felony charge, but that does not mean that it isn’t taken seriously, or that someone convicted of a misdemeanor will not go to jail.
While there are variations depending on the state, certain crimes linked to battery are most often charged as misdemeanors. They include:
- Assault charges, whereby the defendant must be shown to have intended to harm another person, even if the harm did not occur.
- Battery charges, whereby the defendant must be shown to have intended to harm another person, whereby offensive physical contact occurred.
Meanwhile, other crimes linked to battery are more often charged as felonies. They include:
- Aggravated assault, whereby a deadly weapon was used.
- Murder, whereby another person is intentionally killed.
- Rape, whereby a victim is forced to have intercourse. This includes marital assault.
- Kidnapping, whereby someone is forcibly taken from one location to another.
Defense Strategies for Felony and Misdemeanor Battery Offenses
Generally speaking, a good attorney will always try to have a felony charge reduced to misdemeanor. It is common for prosecutors to charge any battery crime as a felony, as this provides them with a degree of leverage, placing them in a better negotiation position, as it may force the defendant to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge.
That being said, while a misdemeanor charge has a less serious outcome than a felony charge, a lawyer will not suggest this as a strategy if they believe the defendant to be innocent, or if they see the prosecution’s case as weak. After all, a dismissal is better than a reduction of severity of the charge.
Penalties and Sentencing for Felony and Misdemeanor Battery Offenses
The penalties associated with battery convictions vary greatly depending not just on whether it is classified as a felony or a misdemeanor, but also on the state in which the crime took place, and the case’s circumstances. Penalties can be as little as a verbal warning or a fine, to as big as several years in prison. Sentencing guidelines recommend judges consider the criminal history of the offender before determining an appropriate sentence.
Naturally, the worse the battery case is, the worse the penalties will be as well. As such, a felony crime will always be punished more harshly than a misdemeanor crime. Aggravated assault and battery convictions, or any other such crimes against persons, can lead to very serious consequences.
Furthermore, it is common for certain classes of victims to be taken into consideration as well when determining the penalty for an assault or battery charge. For instance, if the battery was done by a public servant, such as a police officer, a teacher, a firefighter, or a paramedic, then the penalty is generally much harsher. The same is true for battery charges against a family member of someone who shares a home with the offender. In some states, however, these are not charged as battery cases but rather are covered by domestic violence or domestic abuse acts.
Most states have set their own levels to determine how severe a battery case is, and whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony. Additionally, they have set their own sentencing guidelines as well. These are all down to the individual statutes of the states, and also down to other factors such as those described above. The result is that it can be very difficult to truly estimate what would be the punishment difference between the two.
One final thing to remember is that a felony conviction instead of a misdemeanor conviction always carries other, more serious consequences as well. Not only does it mean bigger fines and longer sentences, it also means that the offender will no longer be able to possess a firearm. They may also lose certain other licenses, such as fishing or hunting. There are even states in which convicted felons can no longer vote. Additionally, a felony conviction must be disclosed when seeking work. Last but not least, in states where there are three-strikes laws, repeated felony convictions can be much harsher.
- What Distinguishes a Misdemeanor From a Felony? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-law-basics/what-distinguishes-a-misdemeanor-from-a-felony.html
- Assault and Battery Penalties and Sentencing (n.d.). Retrieved from http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/assault-and-battery-penalties-and-sentencing.html.