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What is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

October 12, 2012
By The Wiseman Law Firm

Both misdemeanors and felonies are criminal offenses though the penalties for either vary significantly as do the collateral consequences of a conviction.

Misdemeanors generally involve less serious crimes though some violent offenses can be charged as misdemeanors so long as the victim is not seriously injured.

Felonies are the most serious of crimes with offenders facing prison time and extended sentences that can last decades. Offenses are categorized according to severity and have greatly varied sentences. The collateral consequences of a felony conviction are much greater than for misdemeanors. If you are convicted of a felony it can affect every facet of your life from your employment, your right to vote, to your qualification for further education.

Misdemeanor Offenses

  • Speeding
  • Drunk driving
  • Driving on a suspended or revoked license
  • Simple assault
  • Vandalism
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Theft of property under a certain value
  • Possession of small amounts of marijuana

First-time misdemeanor offenders typically are given probation in lieu of jail time and pay a fine. The penalties for a first degree misdemeanor do not exceed up to one year in a county jail, one year of probation and $1000 fine. Jail sentences are usually reserved for repeat offenders or in cases where there are aggravating circumstances.

Aggravating circumstances include severe cases such as multiple drunk driving convictions or having multiple theft convictions which can lead to enhanced sentences

Felony Offenses

  • Homicide
  • Aggravated assault/battery
  • Sex crimes
  • Severe drug offenses
  • Gun crimes
  • Computer crimes
  • Negligent homicide
  • Severe or history of multiple drunk driving offenses
  • Multiple thefts
  • Robbery
  • Burglary

Any third degree felony is punishable by up to five years in prison, 5 years’ probation and $5000 fine. The seriousness of the crime reflects the degree of the felony. First degree felonies are the most serious and carry up to 30 years in prison. There are some crimes like premeditated murder that are punishable by death.

Florida imposes mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain serious felonies, meaning that the defendant must spend that time in prison. You also risk forfeiture of certain property if used in a crime and fines that can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Defendants who are only legal residents may face deportation, especially for violent crimes.

Sex offenders must register with local authorities for life in many cases and are barred from living near parks and schools. For some, they face indefinite civil detentions/restrictions if deemed a continuing risk despite having been released from prison.

Retaining an experienced and skilled criminal defense attorney is essential regardless if your offense is a misdemeanor or felony since your freedom depends on getting the right advice from an aggressive, conscientious and diligent criminal defense attorney.

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