How Are Felony Charges Different From Other Criminal Accusations?

Criminal charges fall into one of three categories. These are infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. You might wonder what distinguishes felonies, charges in the highest tier, from allegations in the two lower tiers. Here are 5 things that distinguish felonies from other accusations.

Expected Prison Time if Convicted

The U.S. government and 43 states define felonies based largely on the projected period a convicted person will be imprisoned. Broadly speaking, felonies tend to be offenses that entail more than 12 months of prison time. These are broken up into 5 classes, ranging from Class E to Class A felonies. A Class E felony is the lowest, usually, entailing between one and 5 years in prison. Class A felonies tend to involve life imprisonment or a death sentence.

Conversely, infractions tend to entail little or no jail time. Incarceration, when applied, is usually a few days. Misdemeanors sometimes involve longer sentences than infractions, but convicted people serve less than one year.

Additional Sanctions

Many felonies require people to register as class-based offenders, and they often also lose access to the right to practice certain trades. For example, someone convicted of a sexually-related felony might have to register as a sex offender. Those convicted of financial fraud are sometimes prevented from serving on corporate boards or in other positions of trust. Many times, felony attorneys will try to plead their clients' cases down to misdemeanors to avoid such additional sanctions.

Level of Crime

Generally, the courts reserve felony charges for offenses that society frowns upon much more than others. Consider how infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies work for various driving offenses. A parking violation or a speeding ticket is an infraction. Someone's first DUI will likely be a misdemeanor. Drivers involved in vehicular homicides should reach out to felony lawyers.

The types of crimes also matter. Abuses involving vulnerable classes of people, such as children, the elderly, and designated minority groups, are often felonies.

Aggravated Circumstances

The law also usually wants to deter certain aggravating behaviors by escalating related charges to felony status. If someone is involved in a bar fight, for example, a conviction will probably land them some misdemeanor time in the county jail. When a combatant adds a weapon to the fight, that's probably going to escalate the charges to felonies.

Repeat Offenses

Similarly, the law also wants to deter repeat offenders. Judges understand that it's possible for someone to just have a bad moment. For example, many courts will apply felony-level sentences for repeated convictions on domestic violence charges.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a felony, consider reaching out to a felony attorney to help educate and protect you through the process. Understanding the differences between felony charges and other accusations could help you greatly.