What’s the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

What’s the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

The maximum range of punishment is the most obvious difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. People who commit felonies go to state prisons for more than a year. People who commit misdemeanors go to county jails for less than one year. Statistically, there are almost twice as many state prison inmates as county jail inmates.[1] Moreover, probation for a felony is much longer and has many more conditions than misdemeanor probation.

Misdemeanors and felonies are also different procedurally. Usually, prosecutors must obtain grand jury indictments in felonies. That’s largely a formality, as the grand jury indictment rate is over 99 percent. Pleas may be different as well. Some courts require allocutions, or detailed admissions of guilt, in felonies. The three major differences between misdemeanors and felonies are outlined below.

Felonies and misdemeanors also have some things in common. They’re both serious criminal cases. Furthermore, a defendant in either a felony or a misdemeanor needs a Rochester criminal defense lawyer. An attorney evaluates your case and determines your legal options. More importantly, a lawyer works hard to obtain a positive result. This result could be a not guilty verdict at trial, a plea to a lesser included offense, or a pretrial dismissal of charges.

Jail Release

When they set presumptive bail amounts, county sheriffs usually consider the defendant’s criminal record and the severity of the offense. Statistically, people who have been through the system before and who face serious charges are more likely to appear at trial. They aren’t as scared and are more anxious to resolve the matters. However, most sheriffs take the opposite approach. They raise bail in felony cases.

Bail for a low-grade felony usually exceeds $2,000. Bail for a serious felony may be ten times that amount or more. Quite simply, most people cannot afford to pay that much.

A bail reduction hearing is usually appropriate in these cases. At this hearing, a Rochester criminal defense lawyer uses the criminal record/severity of the offense arguments mentioned above to reduce bail. Furthermore, a judge considers additional factors at a bail reduction hearing, such as the defendant’s ability to flee the jurisdiction and the defendant’s contacts with the community.

The Constitution’s Eighth Amendment guarantees reasonable bail for a reason. Incarcerated defendants nearly always stay behind bars.

Perception Matters

To many jurors, people who face misdemeanor charges were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or they made an error in judgment. We’ve all done these things at one time or another. Frequently, people who live in glass houses don’t throw stones. In other words, jurors are more willing to go easy on misdemeanor defendants.

Felony defendants, especially violent felony defendants, are different. Jurors typically think these defendants are bad people who deserve punishment.

Perception may not be everything in a jury trial, but it is important. The nerd defense is a good example. When defendants wear eyeglasses, jurors are less likely to convict them, especially if the defendant is charged with a violent crime.[2]

Additionally, a positive perception goes hand-in-hand with a legal defense. If jurors are sympathetic toward the defendant and the defendant has a decent legal defense, jurors are more likely to acquit the defendant.

Collateral Consequences

Perhaps most importantly, the collateral consequences of a felony are much worse than those of a misdemeanor.

The aforementioned perception issues continue. Many employers, landlords, and other individuals also believe that felons are dangerous people who cannot be trusted. Most police officers feel the same way. For example, when detectives launch criminal investigations, they usually start with prior felons in the area. Detectives assume one of these felons either committed the crime or knows who did commit it. The law contains similar provisions. Felons lose many civil rights, such as voting or owning a handgun.

Additionally, very few misdemeanors have immigration consequences. Occasionally, a serious misdemeanor, like a DUI, may trigger deportation or other proceedings. Almost all felonies, on the other hand, have immigration consequences. That’s especially true in violent felony cases. Immigration matters are very difficult to resolve. It’s hard to obtain jail release in these cases. As a result, it’s hard to beat these cases in court, especially since the burden of proof is usually lower in immigration cases.

There’s a big difference between a criminal arrest and a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced Rochester, NY criminal attorney, contact the Law Office of Frank Ciardi. We routinely handle matters in Monroe County and nearby jurisdictions.



[1] https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2022.html

[2] https://brooklynworks.brooklaw.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1058&context=jlp

What Should I Look for in a Rochester, NY Criminal Defense Attorney?

What Should I Look for in a Rochester, NY Criminal Defense Attorney?

In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that, under the Sixth Amendment, defendants have a right to the counsel of their choice.[1] Unfortunately, in many cases, many defendants don’t have much of a choice, at least from a financial perspective. These defendants often look to a court-appointed lawyer or state-funded public defender.

These options often aren’t available. Many Monroe County judges assume, rightly or wrongly, that if defendants can afford bail, they can also afford to hire a Rochester, NY, criminal defense attorney. Even if these options are available, they are usually poor options. Most court-appointed lawyers and public defenders are top-flight defense lawyers. However, that’s certainly not true in all cases. Defendants have no choice in these matters. They get whoever the judge assigns, whether the attorney is capable or not.

So, if you face criminal charges, you probably need a Rochester, NY criminal defense attorney. These charges are much too serious to face the problem alone or take your chances with a lawyer you do not know. An attorney does more than advocate for you. A Rochester, NY, criminal defense lawyer walks you through the entire process, from jail release to case resolution. No one can magically make everything better at this point. However, the right lawyer can help defendants, and their families, get through the criminal law process in one piece.

Criminal Law Focus

Many smaller towns in Monroe County only have a few lawyers. These attorneys usually handle all kinds of cases, from A to Z. Defendants in these communities could go with a designated criminal law attorney who has an office in downtown Rochester. But, as outlined below, that partnership is usually a bad idea. In these cases, a general practice lawyer is certainly better than no one.

However, if at all possible, your Rochester, NY, criminal defense attorney needs to be just that. This lawyer may differ from the one who handled your will or your cousin’s car wreck case.

By nature, civil law and criminal law are different. Most civil law attorneys focus on relationships. If Sarah needs a divorce lawyer somewhere down the road, she’ll most likely also need a child support enforcement lawyer and a parenting time modification lawyer. Criminal law attorneys focus on cases. Hopefully, a defendant’s first time through the system will also be a defendant’s last time through the system.

Of course, your attorney should give your case personal attention. However, criminal defense lawyers are always focused on the here and now as opposed to the future.

General Experience of a Rochester NY Criminal Defense Attorney

Additionally, civil attorneys usually have little practice experience. They may go to court and argue a motion a few times a year, but that’s about it. In contrast, designated defense lawyers often have ample experience. In fact, most defense lawyers are former prosecutors. This background not only gives a lawyer practice experience. It gives a lawyer valuable insight into how the other side thinks and acts.

Specific Experience

We mentioned the difference between civil and criminal practice above. Similarly, if you face felony charges, your lawyer should also have felony experience.

Generally, misdemeanor courts are more informal than felony courts. Additionally, felony punishment is much more severe than misdemeanor punishment. So, there’s more at stake.

During your initial consultation, ask questions like “what percentage of your practice is devoted to X (drug cases, DUIs, aggravated assaults, etc.)” and “can you tell me a little about the last drug, DUI, or assault case you handled.” Avoid lawyers who answer these questions evasively.

Some clients make a big deal out of lawyer specialization. Specialists have a little more training and experience than non-specialists, which is something to consider. However, this consideration shouldn’t override the other items on this list.

Bedside Manner

For the most part, we’ve focused on experience in this post, and rightly so. However, in searching for the right employee or the right lawyer, soft skills are almost as important as hard skills.

For an attorney, soft skills mean the lawyer speaks your language. Many attorneys are fluent in Legalese. Unfortunately, their English isn’t too good. During a consultation, if an attorney uses words you don’t understand and then treats you like an idiot when you ask for an explanation, head for the door.

Additionally, your lawyer should not treat your case like a number. The best attorney-client relationships are partnerships. If you don’t feel like a partner, keep looking. Plenty of choices are available. It’s up to you to make the right choice.

There’s a big difference between a criminal arrest and a criminal conviction. Contact the Law Office of Frank Ciardi for a free consultation with an experienced Rochester, NY criminal attorney. Virtual, home, and jail visits are available.



[1] https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/15pdf/14-419_nmip.PDF