Many states use a number (first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree) classification system to divide felonies. But in New York, we like to do things a little differently. So, state law divides felonies into five categories: Classes A to E, A as the worst, and E as an enhanced misdemeanor. But even a “minor” felony is much worse than any misdemeanor.
A felony conviction usually means confinement in a faraway state prison, not a local jail. Additionally, felons can never participate in civic events, like voting or sitting on a jury, own firearms, qualify for Section 8 housing assistance, or obtain most professional licenses.
Since the stakes are so high, the only job of a Rochester criminal defense attorney is to limit or eliminate these harsh consequences. A successful criminal defense is a process that starts with immediate jail release. If that happens, a Rochester criminal defense lawyer is in a much better position to resolve felony charges successfully. This successful resolution is usually a plea bargain with a substantial reduction of charges and/or a substantially reduced sentence.
Class A-E Felonies in New York
Class A felonies like first-degree murder are capital crimes in many other states. But New York abolished the death penalty in 2007.
Incidentally, first-degree murder is a premeditated killing. If John shoots Dave during an argument, John is probably guilty of second-degree murder (more on that below). If John argues with Dave, gets a gun out of his truck, and shoots Dave, that’s probably first-degree murder, even if the truck was only a few feet away.
Murder, treason, and other Class A felonies are challenging to resolve. Since they carry a mandatory life sentence, a reduced sentence is impossible to negotiate. Therefore, a Rochester criminal defense lawyer must aggressively challenge the state’s evidence at trial.
Class B felonies include second-degree murder, attempted murder, rape, drug trafficking, and armed robbery. These offenses carry a maximum of twenty-five years in prison.
Class C felonies, which could mean up to ten years in prison, include drug distribution, a slightly lesser form of drug trafficking, and certain kinds of aggravated assault. Many frauds, forgery, and other white-collar crimes are also Class C felonies, mainly depending on the amount of money the defendant allegedly stole.
A Class D felony is usually a lower form of a Class C felony, like a less violent aggravated assault or fraud involving less money. So, a conviction means a maximum of five years in prison.
Class E felonies are almost always enhanced misdemeanors, like a third DUI or a DUI with a collision and aggravated stalking. Therefore, a good Rochester criminal defense lawyer can often convince prosecutors to reduce these charges to misdemeanors, especially if there are extenuating circumstances and/or the defendant has no prior criminal record.
Felony Jail Release
Following a misdemeanor arrest, the sheriff almost always sets a presumptive bail amount. S/he typically does the same thing in Class D and E felonies as well. But presumptive bail is often unavailable in Class A, B, and C felonies. So, a Rochester criminal defense lawyer must appear at a bail reduction hearing, usually about seventy-two hours after arrest.
That’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that these defendants must spend a few nights in jail. The good news is that, at a bail reduction hearing, the judge considers many factors before setting bail, such as the defendant’s:
- Ability to pay,
- Prior criminal record,
- Contacts with the community,
- Threats to witnesses and community members,
- Current criminal charges, and
- Likelihood of flight.
At the presumptive bail, the sheriff usually only considers the defendant’s criminal record and the nature of the offense.
Usually, cash bail or a bail bond is available. Cash bail is like a security deposit. The county refunds most if the defendant pays the total amount and complies with all release conditions. A Bail bond is like an insurance policy. The defendant pays about a 15 percent premium, and if the defendant doesn’t fully comply with release conditions, the bonding company bears the financial risk.
Resolving Felony Charges in Monroe County
Charge reduction plea bargains are often available, even in Class A felonies. Prosecutors usually agree to plea bargains if a procedural issue or the state’s evidence weakens.
Warrantless searches and unlawful arrests are the two most common procedural issues. Officers must have search warrants before seizing weapons, drugs, or other physical evidence. If the case makes it to trial, the burden of proof (beyond any reasonable doubt) is very high. Frequently, eyewitnesses aren’t credible, or there’s insufficient evidence linking the defendant to the crime.
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 criminal attorney. We routinely handle matters in Monroe County and nearby jurisdictions.