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Getting charged with a crime can be a devastating event in the life of a person and their family. Because the legal system can often seem complex, it is essential to know what type of charge is being brought against a person and what the potential consequences could be for that type of charge. In general, criminal charges can be categorized as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Knowing the difference can help develop a proper defense for the charges.
Types of Crimes
When a person is charged with a misdemeanor crime, it means that the crime was not as serious as other type of crimes. Depending on what state a person lives in, misdemeanor crimes can include crimes such as driving with a suspended license, petty theft, minor drug offenses and other crimes where no other individual is physically harmed.
A felony crime is a very serious crime. These crimes often include a violent act or the threat of a violent act towards another person, such as grand theft, armed robbery, murder and sex crimes.
Misdemeanors do not bring the same type of punishments that felony charges would bring. For most first-time offenders charged with a misdemeanor, a fine is the most common sentence, though for larger misdemeanor offenses, jail time could also be served. If a person has committed multiple misdemeanor crimes, the fines and jail time could add up since many states allow judges to structure jail time for each offense consecutively rather than concurrently as is often the case in felony crimes.
Felony crimes can carry heavy sentences based on the scope or brutality of the crime. If the crime did not involve physical violence, a person may still only be sentenced with a fine, but it will be much larger than a smaller crime. Violence or murder involved in a crime can sentence a person to long prison terms, anywhere from ten years to a life sentence. In certain states, the death penalty is also a potential consequence of a felony conviction.
Where Sentences are Served
If imprisonment is part of the sentence, a misdemeanor offender will often be sentenced to serve at a local or county jail facility. These facilities are less structured, but provide the inmate with a closer proximity to friends and relatives.
Felony criminals will serve their sentence in a state or federal prison. Inmates are not necessarily kept close to home and can be transferred to other facilities based on space needs.
Whether a person commits a misdemeanor or a felony, other consequences may be applied. Crimes can carry additional punishments of no longer being able to own firearms, having to register as a sex offender, inability to obtain professional licensing or even placement in mental health facilities.