Crime is complicated. Stealing an apple is a crime, and so is stealing the Hope diamond. Both are crimes, but each has a significantly different impact on both the victims of the crime and society at large. An apple is easily replaced, a priceless one-of-a-kind diamond less so. When an apple goes missing, no one spends a million dollars looking for it. When a national heirloom goes missing, people move.
Because of this obvious difference, the legal system has found it useful to classify crimes by their severity.
Some crimes, like driving through a stop light or dumping your trash behind a public building, are punishable as traffic or ordinance violations that are not generally subject to jail time; although some traffic offenses like reckless driving can become higher level misdemeanors subject to jail time; and felonies are punishable by even heftier fines, lengthier jail times, and other civil consequences that are outlined briefly below.
Jail Sentencing Requirements, Locales, and Limitations
Other crimes, designated as misdemeanors like the potential reckless driving offense mentioned above, are still considered relatively minor but are punishable by hefty fines and even jail time. One of the major differences between a misdemeanor offense and a felony offense, and the difference generally first on the minds of the accused, is the length of jail time. Misdemeanors offenses generally cannot be punished by more than 6-months in the county jail, though these sentences can sometimes be up to a year depending on circumstance.
Likewise, defendants convicted of misdemeanors generally serve their sentences in local or county jails as opposed to a state penitentiary. Courts are often hesitant to jail first time misdemeanor offenders, though it does happen. The money fines associated with misdemeanors are also more than a traffic ticket, and less than those associated with a felony.
Length of, and requirements for, probation
Generally, though there are always exceptions in the law, those convicted of misdemeanor offenses are subject to shorter probation periods and less stringent probation requirements. A person accused of a felony involving a controlled dangerous substance, for instance, may be required to take random drug tests as part of their probation. A person on the hook for a non-drug related misdemeanor offense would not likely have to submit themselves to similar chemical testing.
Civil Consequences of Felony Conviction
While potential jail-time is always a defendant’s primary concern, the civil consequences of a felony conviction can also be a significant burden on the accused. Where misdemeanor convictions generally don’t carry conditions beyond a fine or short jail time, a felony conviction can have life long consequences for the person convicted.
Depending on the state and the crime charged, a convicted felon may lose the right to vote for a period of time, they may lose access to public resources like housing and EBT-benefits, they may lose the right to possess a firearm, and they may be legally restricted from going certain places and doing certain things.
If you are facing a criminal charge and need expert professional help navigating the often complicated and contradictory aspects of the criminal justice system, consider contacting one of our premier criminal defense lawyers today!