What Are The Differences Between Felony And Misdemeanor Charges?
The differences between felonies and misdemeanors are quite simple. Misdemeanors generally carry up to one year in the county jail. You cannot go to prison on a misdemeanor, only to your local jail. Felonies are anywhere from one year plus one day served. There are a lot of different classifications listed for felonies. The lowest felony in Illinois is a Class IV, which has the potential for one to three years in prison, but probation is possible as long as you realize there are restrictions to the probation status. There are fines associated with probation as well as up to and including a possible $15,000 fine.
The fine amounts keep changing, but as the crime is more involved and the criminal act is vicious in nature, the fines will be higher. Obviously, so will the amount of years spent in jail or prison. In some drug cases they have minimum attached fines that they call statutory assessments. It looks like a fine, but it is not a fine, it is part of the court costs. For a Class I felony in Illinois, there is an extra $2000 for statutory assessment. On a Class X felony, there is an extra $5000 statutory assessment which may be up to a $250,000 of potential fines, which depends on the amount of controlled substance being sold.
To recap, the basic difference in a misdemeanor and a felony is the amount of time you spend in jail. There are also different degrees of misdemeanors just as there are different degrees of felonies. I practice in both Wisconsin and Illinois, and both states have different misdemeanor levels. The smaller class of misdemeanors, which would be disorderly conduct or something like that, can carry up to thirty days in jail with a possible maximum penalty and a $500 fine. Remember fines and time in jail goes up according to the levels of crime. For example, Level B is a $1500 maximum fine with one month in jail and a Class A with $2500 and a year in jail.
Wisconsin is similar. They have some misdemeanors that carry up to nine months in jail and have some that do not carry much time in jail what so ever. It is as if they were just like petty offenses. Every state is different, but you do not want a felony arrest on your records. We are now seeing a trend on most employment and school applications, which ask you, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” “Have you ever been charged with a criminal offense?” You think if you were charged with something and found not guilty of it, it should not be used against you, but unfortunately that is no longer the case.
Can A Felony Charge Be Reduced To Misdemeanor In Court?
Felony charges can be reduced, but you will still face the felony charge. I can promise you this, if you hire an attorney such as myself one who is competent, knowledgeable and experienced, the least we could do is to have the felony charges reduced to misdemeanors. It all comes down to prosecutorial discretion, where the facts merit what the District or the State Attorneys are dealing with. Many times we have felony charges reduced to misdemeanors in most of our cases.
Some of these are more enhanced cases. I had one recently where the client had their driving license revoked and because they had more than one driving license revoked based on a previous DUI, the second one automatically turns into a felony. It was actually a misdemeanor in court and we did not agree to the offer. Hindsight they came back and said “fine if you don’t like the offer we are making we are going to enhance this to a felony”, which they did.
Prosecutorial discretion is being used on all levels. It starts mainly on street level. Law enforcement has the discretion to charge you with either a state charge or he can charge you with a similar local ordinance charge, none of these charges carry any possible jail time. They have the first level of prosecutorial discretion and they could treat it as a street adjustment where they could just say, “We are going to bring your parents in and talk to them. We are not going to charge you.” They have discretion at that level on whom to charge, but ultimately it all comes down to the prosecuting authority which is the District Attorney, the local prosecutor or the State’s authority.
Say that a person gets picked up for a revoked ticket and it is a third offense because of a DUI, they can file it as a felony or they can file it as a misdemeanor. It really is up to their discretion, sad to say, whatever they feel like doing on any given day. The level of discretion stays with the State’s Attorney. You can start off with a very serious non -probation-able offense or you can wind up getting probation, because the charges have been reduced. When you hire an experienced attorney this is what they should do for you, and that is what you should be looking for.
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