Broadly speaking, the law divides all crimes into two different categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Most people also know that, generally speaking, misdemeanors are considered as less serious than felonies. But what exactly is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony, and why should it matter to you?
Defining Misdemeanors and Felonies
In simple terms, the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is a simple matter of the severity of the crime. Misdemeanors include any crime with a maximum sentence of no greater than one year, while felonies include all crimes with more severe punishments, up to and including life sentences or capital crimes. New York also divides misdemeanors and felonies into different categories:
- Misdemeanors in New York can be considered B misdemeanors or A misdemeanors, with A misdemeanors being considered more severe.
- Felonies are separated into six broad categories, from most to least severe: A-I, A-II, B, C, D, and E.
- In addition, New York also differentiates between violent offenses and non-violent offenses, with violent crimes receiving harsher sentences.
Examples of Misdemeanors and Felonies
Some common examples of misdemeanors include:
- Petit larceny (theft of property valued at less than $1,000)
- Third-degree assault (recklessly hurting someone else)
- Low-level drug possession offenses
- Stalking and harassment
- Driving with a suspended license
- Driving while intoxicated (first offense)
Meanwhile, some common examples of felonies include:
- Homicide (including negligent homicide, manslaughter and murder)
- Most forms of sexual assault or rape
- Drug trafficking
- Grand larceny and grand theft auto
- Fraud (including wire fraud, check fraud and welfare fraud)
Additional Consequences of Felonies
Aside from resulting in more severe sentencing, there are a number of differences between how felonies and misdemeanors are handled. First, people convicted of a misdemeanor will continue to be held in jail until their sentence is over, while people convicted of a felony will be moved to prison. Second, many of the collateral consequences of criminal acts, such as the risk of losing certain benefits or the risk of losing legal immigrant status, primarily affect felons rather than people accused of a misdemeanor.
How This Affects Defendants
The distinction between a misdemeanor and a felony can be essential when planning out a legal strategy. The severity of the consequences of a conviction vary wildly depending on the crime you are accused of, which in turn determines whether a plea deal is acceptable or whether it might be better to go to trial. However, the only way to know what is best in your case is to consult a lawyer with experience handling criminal defense matters.
If you or someone you know has been arrested for a criminal offense, you will need legal counsel to help you preserve your rights and work to get the best possible outcome for your matter. A New York criminal defense lawyer, who is experienced in handling criminal cases of all sorts, can advise you of your legal rights and will fight for your best interests in court. If you or your loved one has been arrested, contact the Suffolk County criminal defense attorneys at McGuire, Peláez and Bennett at (631) 348-1702.