Most jurisdictions in the US divide crimes into several categories, depending upon their seriousness. Generally, the crimes are divided based upon how much jail time you can receive for the crime, if any. The two major types of crimes recognized by most US states are misdemeanors and felonies.
Misdemeanors are crimes that may be punished by as much as a year in jail. The sentence usually is served in a county jail and not in a state prison. On the other hand, felonies are the most serious type of crime. They are generally defined as crimes that can be punished by more than a year in jail or prison.
Misdemeanors encompass many less serious crimes. Some of the most common misdemeanors are minor thefts, traffic offenses such as DUI, and drug possession. Some states have different classes of misdemeanor, with the most serious being first degree offenses, and less serious second and third degree misdemeanors. While misdemeanors are usually punished by no more than a year in jail, having multiple misdemeanor charges could mean having to spend more time in jail than a year.
Most misdemeanors have sentences that are carried out in county or city jails. Many people think that serving a sentence in a jail is better than prison, but this depends; being in a county jail means being closer to loved ones, who can see you more often. But jail life tends to be less structured and more chaotic, which can result in more chances for violence than state prison in some cases.
The court proceedings for misdemeanors might be expedited in some states, but the legal process is like any other court case. You have the right to a defense attorney, and one will be appointed for you if you cannot afford one. The trial could be by judge or jury, and the choice is up to the defendant. Many misdemeanor trials have a jury of six rather than 12 that is common in felony proceedings.
Some of the most common types of misdemeanor crimes are:
- Petty theft
- Disorderly conduct
- Simple assault
- Possession of marijuana
- First time DUI without death or serious injury
Many misdemeanors can result in jail time, but this is not always the case. If you have an effective defense attorney, he or she may be able to negotiate a plea deal where you can get a fine, community service, drug treatment, etc. without going to jail. Or, you may be able to get probation. The punishment you receive is generally up to the discretion of the judge. Also factoring into it is your criminal background.
Felonies are the most serious crimes and are classified by degrees in most states. A first degree felony is the most serious type, including rape, murder, and grand theft. Many states mandate the prosecutor get an indictment from the grand jury before charging the person with a felony. Felonies are punished by substantial prison time and fines, with the most serious felonies for murder punishable by death.
Most people convicted of felonies will serve their sentence in state prison or in a federal prison. Inmates may be sent from one prison to another depending upon how crowded the facilities are, so you would often have to spend your sentence far from home.
People who are accused of felonies may have a trial by jury, and the court must give you an attorney if you cannot afford one. Some felonies may have juries of six, but for serious felonies, juries of 12 are standard. Being convicted of a felony means that you cannot purchase or possess firearms, vote, or be employed in certain professions.
Many felonies can earn you a very long stay in state or federal prison. For example, a first degree murder conviction in Massachusetts will get you up to life in prison. However, the judge can opt to limit the sentence; if it is your first offense, you may get a sentence of only 25 years.
Below are some of the most common crime cases and the difference between misdemeanor and felony charges for each.
Misdemeanor vs. Felony Drug Offenses
One of the most common areas of contention in criminal law is the difference between misdemeanor and felony drug offenses. Depending upon the state in which the alleged crime occurred, there are three major factors that will determine how the crime is charged:
- Were you selling or distributing the drugs, or just possessing them?
- What types of drugs were you holding or selling?
- What was the quantity of the drugs in your possession?
One of the most common types of drug convictions is for marijuana. The amount of the drug involved will largely determine if it is a misdemeanor or felony offense. For instance, in Minnesota, people who are caught with 42.5 grams or less will be charged with a petty misdemeanor. The conviction for such a crime results only in a fine of $300. But if you are carrying more than 42.5 grams, you can be charged with a felony and do serious jail time. With more than 100 kg of marijuana, you may receive up to 30 years in state prison.
Misdemeanor vs. Felony Assault Offenses
Assault happens when one person violates the personal space of another. In many states, the mere threat of attack can result in an assault charge. In some cases, this is a misdemeanor and in others, it is a felony. What is the difference?
If you are charged with misdemeanor assault, you will not spend more than a year in jail. If you are charged with a felony, you could be in prison for years.
To be convicted on a felony assault charge, it must be proven that you intended to harm the other person. Also, you must have had a deadly weapon in your possession. The victim also must have suffered some type of physical injury. Few states will charge you with felony assault if the other person merely had financial or emotional distress from the crime. Just brandishing a weapon in an assault can make the crime a felony.
Sentencing for a felony assault charge will vary widely among states. Your criminal history, the nature of the victim and the injuries sustained are major factors. Generally, you will get at least a year in prison for a felonious assault charge.
Misdemeanor vs. Felony Theft Differences
Theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony based upon case circumstances. In Minnesota for example, misdemeanor theft is usually associated with shoplifting. Shoplifting one or two items can result up to a year in jail. If the products are worth less than $500, you can receive up to $1000 in fines and 90 days in jail. Shoplifting products from $500 to $1000 in value is a gross misdemeanor in Minnesota, with fines up to $3000 and a year in jail.
Charges for theft in Minnesota can be bumped up to a felony if you have been convicted of theft in the last five years. If you are convicted for shoplifting $500 to $1000 and have a history of theft, you can be charged with a felony with up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. If the theft involves products worth more than $5000, you may get 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
Felony and Misdemeanor Cases
- 3 Arrested in Indiana on Misdemeanor and Felony Charges – Three men were arrested in Loogootee IN last week for various felony and misdemeanor charges, including possession of marijuana, possession of paraphernalia, maintaining a common nuisance, and two counts of neglect of a dependent.
- Felony and Misdemeanor Charges for Animal Cruelty Filed – The owner of a dog that was found frozen solid on a porch in Toledo, OH has been charged with felony animal cruelty. The man also was charged with a misdemeanor for not leaving food and water for the animal.
- Nebraska Woman Faces Misdemeanor and Felony Charges – A 28 year old woman in Lincoln NE is facing six felony charges and two misdemeanor charges, including possession of a firearm by a prohibited person and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony.
- Misdemeanor vs. Felony Differences. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=30998
- 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