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What is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

Felony and misdemeanor charges are two different kinds of challenges, with their own outcomes in terms of prosecution and how they will affect your life after sentencing.

Someone who’s facing one of these sorts of legal cases will want to know how they’re alike and how they’re different.

Understanding these two major categories of charges will help you to plan for your legal defense or the legal defense of a family member or loved one.

The Basics: The Size of Your Case

In general, misdemeanors are smaller and less complicated kinds of criminal cases, and felonies are attached to more significant types of allegations that can typically be serious or violent in nature.

Both types of offenses can cause significant impacts on your time, money, and reputation; however, in a number of ways, felonies will impact your life a lot more than misdemeanor charges.

One might say that felonies involve a “major loss of freedom” for those who are convicted, while misdemeanors can be resolved with less exposure and less severe punishments. In both felonies and misdemeanors you must invest resources and energy in fighting the case so that your interests are protected from the penalties and punishments that are attached to the outcomes.

We’ll talk about some of the ways that misdemeanors and felonies differ below.

Will I Go To Jail?

One of the biggest differences between felonies and misdemeanors is related to sentencing and jail time.

Many types of misdemeanors have exposure of a maximum of one year in county jail and can be resolved with alternative forms of custodial time or no custodial time at all. There are also many crimes that qualify for misdemeanor diversion and other collaborative court resolutions that can avoid a jail sentence and conviction altogether.

On the other hand, felonies carry exposure to state prison sentences or lengthier sentences that can be served in county jail. The minimum exposure on a felony is 16m in state prison. Based on some statutory sentencing schemes under Penal Code 1170(h) some felony offenses that previously required state prison time can now be served locally in county jail. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help secure an outcome that reduces the risk of a state prison sentence to help keep you close to home if the resolution requires incarceration. There are also jail alternatives that are available in felony cases that can be negotiated prior to resolution of a felony case.

What Courthouse Do I Go To?

In many counties in California, the misdemeanor matters are heard in different courtrooms that the felony matters. The life cycle of a felony case tends to be longer than a misdemeanor and felonies include preliminary hearings which do not happen in misdemeanor cases. Most felonies are heard in either separate court houses than misdemeanors depending on the size of the county or in separate courtrooms in the same courthouse.

The Need for Representation in Criminal Law Cases

Because felony cases are more serious and carry more jail time, the legal system has put some requirements in place for many felony charges. In California, the District Attorney is required to prove that there is probable cause for the felony charges that are filed. This prove up occurs at a “Preliminary Hearing” or a “prelim” for short. A preliminary hearing may sound like your first hearing, but it’s not. It’s an event that occurs within 10 days of entering a plea unless time is waived. At this hearing, the judge decides whether there is probable cause to hold the defendant to answer for each charge that the District Attorney assessed. The prelim is a mini trial before the trial with a lower burden of proof. Charges can stay the same, more can be added, some can go away or be reduced, or all can go away. This process does not occur in misdemeanor cases. However, in felonies and misdemeanor cases alike there are pretrial negotiations, pretrial motions, trial readiness conferences, and trial so having competent counsel no matter the case type is critical.

In any case, a person accused of a crime can be referred to the public defender to assess their eligibility for representation. The public defender provides free services to indigent clients. If someone is not indigent then they can secure private representation. That’s where our firm comes in.

No matter what kind of charge you’re facing and what challenges you face as a defendant, you’re likely going to feel better with a qualified lawyer on your side.

A professional criminal defense attorney will provide a client with comprehensive assistance and support every step of the way and do what’s required to prevent unfair prosecution or targeted sentencing.

They’ll keep a client informed about what he or she is facing, explain any strategies or choices that may help reduce or eliminate jail time, and improve the future of someone looking at significant changes to their freedom or lifestyle.

Long-Term Effects: Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor

Another big difference between these two types of cases is how they will affect your life after you have served your sentence.

Some of the long-term effects of felonies include:

  • Disqualification from holding public office
  • Formal Probation and Parole requirements
  • Ineligibility for voting while incarcerated

Both felony and misdemeanor convictions can create hurdles in securing gainful employment due to the ability of private employers to ask about someone’s criminal record after a job offer has been extended – a job offer can be rescinded in situations where the offense has a nexus to the job duties. Certain felony and misdemeanor convictions tend to have severe immigration consequences, they can impact child custody disputes, and some crimes can affect the ability to secure a loan or housing. . The consequences of convictions can be far reaching.

For anyone facing a felony or misdemeanor offense, , understanding the potential ramifications of charges is essential.

Misdemeanors and Felonies: When Small Cases Become Big Cases

One thing to remember is that even minor misdemeanors can turn into bigger challenges down the road.

Think about cumulative charges.

Some misdemeanor offenses like petty theft or DUI are considered “priorable” offenses – this means that each additional accusation can result in harsher penalties when the prior is alleged. A skilled criminal defense attorney can hold the District Attorney to their burden of proving the prior offenses and work towards negotiating a less severe outcome.

Repeat misdemeanor offenses can even become felonies, carrying more severe sentencing, including longer jail time and much higher fines.

So, even a single misdemeanor has its own long-term consequences and requires dedicated planning and strategy by a skilled lawyer to protect the interests of the accused.

Get Help From Qualified Criminal Defense Lawyers

If you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, come to see the lawyers at The Nieves Law Firm in Oakland.

We are dedicated to helping our clients understand their situation, address their challenges, and plan for the future, for example, protecting their livelihood and their family’s future during and after prosecution.

Get the peace of mind of being represented well in a criminal proceeding with attorneys who will explain things and answer your questions in terms of fines, jail time, and collateral consequences.

We will fight for you in a court of law.

Contact us today for a consultation.

Author Bio

Grace Goodman is a lawyer at The Nieves Law Firm, having joined the firm as an attorney in January 2021. Grace has been immersed in the world of law since she was a child, becoming the family’s fourth generation lawyer when she passed the bar in 2021. Grace handles a variety of cases at the firm, representing those facing criminal charges, pursuing post-conviction relief, and filing or contesting restraining orders.

Grace obtained her J.D. from U.C. Hastings College of Law and is a member of California State Bar.  With her immense knowledge of the justice system, Grace feverishly studies the criminal justice system in her spare time to stay up to date on changes within the legal system.

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