Understanding the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor

Even though the law applies to us all, the legal system is notoriously complicated and difficult to navigate. Sadly, this means that people are often unaware of their rights, even after they’ve been charged with a crime.

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Understanding the difference between a felony and misdemeanor is essential, particularly if you’ve been arrested. Although both misdemeanors and felonies are crimes, there are significant differences between the two.

What is a Felony?

A felony is considered to be a very serious crime and is usually reserved for charges like murder, extreme violence or sexual offences. However, your criminal history can mean that other types of offences are elevated to a felony charge. If you’ve been charged with a first degree DWI offence, for example, this can be a felony charge and typically occurs when an individual has received three prior misdemeanor DWIs within the last 10 years. 

One of the biggest differences between a felony and misdemeanor is incarceration. A felony charge carries a sentence of more than one-year imprisonment and people may face decades behind bars if they’re found guilty. However, this isn’t the only long-term impact of a felony conviction. To find out more about the consequences of a felony conviction, take a look at this blog post from campolidefense.com.

What is Misdemeanor?

In contrast, a misdemeanor is a criminal offence that’s less serious than a felony. To reflect this, the maximum penalty for a misdemeanor is set at 90 days jail time and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Furthermore, misdemeanors may not lead to any jail time at all, although you may be given probation or an alternative punishment.

However, it’s worth noting that Minnesota separates misdemeanors into three separate types: petty misdemeanors, misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors. While a petty misdemeanor carries no jail time and a fine of up to $300, a gross misdemeanor is far more serious.

Under Minnesota law, a gross misdemeanor effectively straddles the line between a standard misdemeanor and a felony charge. This means the punishment can be far harsher than a typical misdemeanor. If you’re found guilty of a gross misdemeanor, for example, you could face up to a year in jail, subsequent probation and/or a fine of up to $3,000.

Why it’s Important to Get Legal Advice

If you’ve been charged with a crime, it’s vital to access legal advice as quickly as possible. Although you can choose to speak with the police independently, following your arrest, you also have the right to speak with an attorney and have them represent you during an interview.

By consulting a lawyer following your arrest, you can take a strategic approach to the situation. The police may not have much evidence against you, for example, and your criminal defense lawyer may be able to get the charges dropped. Alternatively, a criminal defense attorney could successfully argue that a felony charge should be reduced to a misdemeanor.

Although both felonies and misdemeanors are criminal charges, one is more serious than the other and can have far more consequences. Due to this, it’s important to understand the difference between these two types of offences and what your options are if you’re charged with any type of crime.