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.





The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.

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