What is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and A Felony?

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One of the largest decisions for a prosecutor is to determine if a crime is a low-level offense deserving a misdemeanor, or a more serious offense that must be charged as a felony. This is not as easy as it sounds because a Los Angeles County prosecutor will have to consider previous criminal history, the extent of the crime committed, the proper evidence to obtain a conviction, and the overcrowding county jails.

If the prosecutor decides to press charges, then the defendant should hire a Los Angeles Criminal Attorney to represent their interests. To understand the differences between a misdemeanor and a felony you must know what the punishment is for a misdemeanor, a felony, classifications of felonies and misdemeanors, and various factors that influence a prosecutor’s decision.

A misdemeanor is a low-level crime that could land a suspect in jail for up to one year. A few of these crimes include: petty theft, prostitution, reckless driving, disorderly conduct, and public intoxication. These crimes don’t present a major threat to the community like murder, but they are important to enforce because we can’t have a large portion of society committing petty offenses.

In addition to up to one year in jail, a misdemeanor can have a maximum fine of $10,000 that must be paid, or the court will garnish your wages.

Felonies are more serious crimes that result in serious injury of an individual or inflict substantial monetary hardships on the victim. These crimes will land you in federal prison anywhere from one year to life without the possibility of parole, or even death. In addition to a lengthy prison sentence, they can also receive a maximum fine of $250,000. If a person is arrested on multiple occasions for the same type of crime, then they will eventually be charged with a felony for the repeat offenses.

Misdemeanors, and felonies have a classification system that determines the proper punishment for the crime. Each offense has a classification of A, B, C, and D with felonies having an additional E class. In this system, a class A offense is the most serious charge. Each class has a corresponding timeframe the person must stay behind bars, the fine they must pay, and length of probation.

There are several factors that influence how a prosecutor will charge a suspect. One of the largest factors is the defendant’s criminal history. If someone is arrested for the fifth time for driving under the influence, then their charge will be increased to a felony and they will have to serve time. Another large factor is the intent of the crime. There are numerous crimes of opportunity that happen when a situation arises and you don’t act in the appropriate manner, then there are crimes where you go out of your way to cause harm to another individual.

For example, a man swings a baseball bat and narrowly misses hitting the victim in the head during a fight. The prosecutor could determine that this was an act to inflict serious harm to the victim and decide to charge him with assault with a deadly weapon even though the baseball bat never made contact with the victim.