FAQ: Felony & Misdemeanor
1. What is a felony?
The most serious types of crimes are referred to as felonies. The usual definition is that a felony is any crime that may be punished by more than a year’s imprisonment, or death. A crime that has a maximum sentence of a monetary fine, or a short period of confinement in the local jail is not a felony. A statute may not specifically label an offense as a felony, but the punishment defines the offense as a felony. State criminal codes may call a crime an “aggravated” or “gross” misdemeanor, but the offense calls for a sentence of more than one year in the state penal system. Those offenses will be treated as felonies. When crimes charged are more serious, the need for an experienced criminal defense attorney to help a defendant through the process becomes even greater.
Felonies include both violent and non-violent crimes, such as grand theft, embezzlement of large sums of money, first degree assault, or assault that causes severe bodily harm, all degrees of murder, rape, racketeering, large scale fraud, kidnapping, and serious drug crimes. A Minneapolis Felony Defense Lawyer from Caplan & Tamburino Law Firm can help you get the rights you deserve.
2. What are felony procedures?
Additionally, special procedures apply when the charge is a felony. If a defendant is too poor to afford to hire an attorney, the court will appoint one to represent him or her, without charge. An attorney is not always appointed for less serious charges. Similarly, the defendant must usually be present for all or most parts of the court process when the charge is a felony. Some state laws require that felonies be charged only upon an indictment handed down by a grand jury, while lesser offenses may be charged by a written “complaint,” or “information.” The rules of evidence in some states provide that a defendant’s or witness’ testimony may be disregarded if he or she has been guilty of a felony, but the rule does not apply if he or she was guilty of only a less serious offense. Most importantly, some states have so-called “three strikes” laws, which provide that a person will be sentenced to life in prison on his or her third felony conviction. Three strikes laws do not apply to misdemeanor convictions. It is easy to see why a person charged with a felony needs the zealous representation of an experienced criminal defender
3. What is the substantive law of felonies?
Designating a crime as a felony may affect other charges, as well as the procedural law. For example, if an accidental death occurs during the commission of a felony, some states classify the crime as murder, while the crime is manslaughter if the death occurs during the commission of a lesser offense. Similarly, the common law defines the crime of burglary as entering another person’s house without their permission, for the purpose of committing a felony in the house. If the purpose for entering was not the commission of a felony, the crime was not burglary. A conspiracy often will be punished more severely if the conspiracy was to commit a felony, instead of conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor.
4. What are the consequences of a felony convictions?
If a person is convicted of a felony, he or she may find that his or her rights may be restricted more than those of a person convicted of a misdemeanor. Convicted felons usually serve more time incarcerated, and the conditions of their incarceration generally are more severe. There are many other consequences, as well. In many states, people convicted of felonies may not serve on juries. They may lose their right to vote, or to engage in some professions, like teaching or law. Felons are often prohibited from serving in the military, or owning firearms. In addition, as noted above, many states have so-called “three strikes” laws that require that a person be sentenced to life upon his or her third felony conviction. Experienced defense counsel, will help you not only before and during a trial, but can make sure you may be able to return to a normal life as soon as you can.
5. What is a Misdemeanor?
Crimes that are regarded as less serious are referred to as misdemeanors. A misdemeanor usually is punishable by a fine, or by incarceration in a local jail for a period of less than one year. Prosecutors typically do not convene a grand jury to investigate or issue indictments for misdemeanor charges, although the same conduct may give rise to both felony and misdemeanor charges. Misdemeanors are usually charged by a written complaint, or “information.” In some states, poor defendants are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney when charged only with a misdemeanor. The charges may be considered minor, but being accused of a misdemeanor-not to mention being convicted of one-can cause a major disruption in the life of an accused. As in any criminal case, it is essential that a defendant in a misdemeanor prosecution have zealous representation backing him or her up. A person accused of a misdemeanor should seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Misdemeanors sometimes are handled in special courts that have streamlined procedures. For example, in some states, a defendant who wants a jury trial in a misdemeanor case will have to make a special request, and a fee. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to advise you on the procedures followed in your particular jurisdiction.
6. What are penalties for misdemeanors?
As a rule, the penalties and other consequences of a misdemeanor conviction are less severe than those of a felony conviction. Not only do the jail sentences imposed tend to be shorter, but the broader consequences are not as dramatic. Usually, a person who has a misdemeanor conviction on his or her record may still vote, serve on a jury, and practice his or her profession. Defense counsel may, in some cases, be able to “plead down” a felony to a misdemeanor, which will not only minimize the punishment imposed, but will lessen the consequences for the future.
7. What’s the difference between misdemeanors or felonies?
Depending upon the circumstances of the case, some crimes may be considered either felonies or misdemeanors. Serious felonies, for example, assault or sexual abuse, often refer to conduct that could be a misdemeanor. If an assault causes severe bodily injury, for example, it is often regarded as a felony. Simple assault that causes no lasting injury, however, is a misdemeanor. Similarly, while drug offenses usually are felonies, possession of a small amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor in many states.
Less serious offenses, such as traffic violations, are often prosecuted as misdemeanors, even though they may be felonies in some circumstances, or the most minor type of crime, infractions, in others. A traffic violation usually is an infraction if there was no collision, no one was hurt, and no property was damaged. The violation becomes a misdemeanor or a felony if someone is injured, or there was destruction of property. A lawyer from the Caplan & Tamburino Law Firm can help you with Minneapolis Criminal Defense matters relating to a felony or misdemeanor charge.