What is a Felony? A felony is a crime for which the punishment is usually in excess of one year in prison or on probation and a fine of more than $1000.00. A person may also lose some or all of their civil liberties, such as the right to vote or own a handgun, if they are convicted of this type of crime.
What is a Misdemeanor? A misdemeanor is a crime for which the punishment is usually one year or less in the local jail or on probation and a fine of less than $1000.00. Punishment may also include a variety of other hardships such as community service at a recycling plant or picking up trash along the highway with the jail patrol; mandatory drug and alcohol counseling; waiver of your right to travel or your fourth amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure; and other types of punishments.
Criminal conduct usually falls under one of seven (7) categories. Within each category there exists both misdemeanor and felony offenses. The less serious crimes are usually treated as misdemeanors the more serious crimes are treated as felonies. Remember, whether a type of crime is a misdemeanor or felony depends upon the level of punishment attached to the offense. See below for a description of the seven (7) general categories of crimes.
The Seven Categories of Criminal Offenses
- Property Crimes - Offenses involving some type of allegation of taking or damaging the property of another person without their knowledge or consent. Misdemeanor examples include theft by shoplifting ($300 or less in merchandise), theft by taking ($500 or less in value) and criminal trespass. Felony examples include burglary, robbery (taking by force), forgery (passing a phony check for example), and arson. Offenses known as "white collar" crimes.
- Serious Traffic Violations - Offenses involving serious misconduct while driving a motor vehicle. DUI is the most common misdemeanor example, although multiple convictions for DUI can lead to the accused being charged with a felony as a habitual violator. Felony examples include vehicular manslaughter and vehicular homicide. These cases involve the accused driving in a very reckless manner - extremely drunk for example - and then causing death or serious injury to another innocent driver. The classic example is where a very drunk driver hits another car while driving, killing the other driver.
- Sex Crimes - Offenses involving illegal sexual conduct. Examples of misdemeanors include pandering (soliciting a prostitute), indecent exposure, and sexual battery (uninvited sexual advances). Examples of felonies include rape, child molestation and possession of child pornography. These offenses are highly volatile in nature, and merely being investigated for such an offense can ruin a person's personal and professional reputation.
- Drug Crimes - Offenses involving the possession, distribution, or sale of illegal drugs. Whether a particular offense is treated as a misdemeanor or a felony usually involves the weight or amount of the drugs involved. Normally, courts treat simple possession of drugs less seriously than selling or distributing drugs, as the user is seen partially as a victim in need of treatment by many judges whereas a dealer is viewed as part of the problem. There may also be considerable class bias in the punishment of these offenses as "upper class drugs" such as LSD, powder cocaine, and marijuana are punished less severely than "working class" or "inner city drugs" such as methamphetamine and crack rock cocaine.
- Violent Crimes - Offenses involving an act of violence against another person. The violence can be verbal or mental - making terroristic threats or stalking - but usually the violence is physical in nature. Examples of misdemeanors are assault, battery, sexual battery and stalking. Felony examples are murder, aggravated assault, manslaughter and aggravated stalking.
- Domestic Violence Crimes - This is really a sub-category of Violent Crimes, but deserves to be treated as a separate category. Domestic Violence offenses are relatively new as they are a political and legislative response to the increasing awareness of violent behavior between spouses and other persons living in the same house. They take crimes such as battery and simple assault, normally misdemeanors, and treat them as felonies if the accused and the victim are husband and wife or two people otherwise living together. The victim is also not allowed to dismiss the charges once the accused has been arrested and the prosecutor will attempt to prosecute the accused even if the victim - usually the spouse or other domestic partner - refuses to testify and wants the charges dismissed. The punishment for these charges has increased over the years, as public awareness of the problem of domestic violence increases.
- Crimes Against Public Order or Public Administration - Offenses involving some kind of action against a public official, a government institution, or a breach of the public peace. Examples of misdemeanors include disorderly conduct, public intoxication, failing to appear in court, unlawful assembly, and giving a false name or driver's license to a police officer. Examples of felonies are possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, treason, violent obstruction of a police officer, and violation of an oath of office. These types of cases may involve constitutional challenges as they can bump into constitutional protections under our Bill of Rights. At the same time, some of the more misdemeanor offenses may also be treated as "civil ordinance" violations, where the accused is allowed to pay a small fine for disturbing local community standards instead of being punished for a crime under state law.
At Earl Spielman & Associates L.L.C. we represent persons accused of any and all types of criminal charges. Call us today for your free consultation.