While most people understand that a felony is worse than a misdemeanor, they don’t understand what exactly is the difference between the two -an many people aren’t even aware of what an infraction is at all. Ultimately, the differences come down to the severity of the charges as well as the potential penalties.
Misdemeanors Versus Felonies in California
When it comes to how infractions, misdemeanors and felonies differ, the easiest way to distinguish the three is by recognizing that infractions are the least serious criminal charges and will only result in a fine -these are things like traffic violations or jaywalking tickets. Misdemeanors are the next most serious level of offense as these can result in jail time, probation as well as fines. Lastly, felonies can leave you sentenced to jail, probation, fines as well, but you could also face time in prison or even result in the death penalty in some cases.
As for the difference between jail and prison, there are some major differences, which we covered in this article.
What is a Misdemeanor?
While most states have their own definition of a misdemeanor, in California, a misdemeanor is a crime that carries a sentence no longer than one year in county jail and in some cases, are punishable by no more than a fine. A misdemeanor will not end up on your criminal record.
In some misdemeanor cases, you may even have the right to waive your appearance in court and have your criminal defense attorney appear on your behalf. Common misdemeanor crimes include cases of DUI, petty theft, minor drug possession, simple assault or battery and most cases of domestic violence.
What Are Felonies in California?
Felonies are more serious crimes and if you are convicted, you may end up serving time in a state prison, although some convictions will result in probation time. Additionally, many low-level felony crimes allow a state prison sentence to be served in local jail under a split sentence. A split sentence requires part of the sentence to be in a local jail while the other part is served while out of jail on community supervision.
Common felony charges include . Some examples of crimes that are always felonies include grand theft, drug sales, murder, rape, robbery lewd acts with a minor (child molestation). Some crimes can be either a felony or misdemeanor. For crimes like battery, the charges will often be filed based on the degree of injury suffered by the victim.
It is worth noting that felony probation (also known as formal probation) has a lot more restrictions than misdemeanor (or summary) probation.
More Differences Between Misdemeanors and Felonies
There are other differences besides sentencing when it comes to misdemeanors and felonies. If you are accused of a felony, you must go to court in person, which isn’t always the case for misdemeanors. No matter what sentence you receive, having a felony conviction on your record can seriously jeopardize your future, preventing you from owning firearms, leaving you with a DNA record in the state and federal database, and making you likely to face discrimination while seeking employment and looking for affordable housing.
If the crime is a violent or serious felony in California, you could even receive a strike on your record under the three strikes law, meaning that after you receive three such counts on your record, you could face life imprisonment.
In some felony cases, a criminal attorney will be able to plead the charges down to a misdemeanor, allowing you to serve a much shorter sentence and protect your right to bear arms.
Special Misdemeanor Offenses
While misdemeanors are generally lesser offenses, there are two specific forms of misdemeanors with more serious consequences than the rest. If you are charged with a misdemeanor domestic violence or a sex crime, you should be aware that you will face additional penalties beyond those of a typical misdemeanor.
Anyone accused of domestic violence will be required to go to court. Aside from being required to attend court in person, you will also lose your right to own a firearm if you are convicted and this could even affect your ability to serve in the armed forces.
Even misdemeanor sex offenses will require you to register on the sex offender registry. While most people convicted of misdemeanor sex crimes will only be required to register for ten years, those who have been on the registry for the minimum required amount of time will not be automatically removed from it. Instead, they will need to petition the court to be removed from the registry.
While anyone accused of a crime should seek legal counsel, it is imperative that anyone charged with a felony contact an attorney as soon as possible. For more information or to schedule a free consultation with Peter M. Liss by calling (760) 643-4050.
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