Friday, March 25, 2016

Facing a misdemeanor? How serious is it: potential penalties from misdemeanor charges

The thing is that a lot of commercials for criminal defense use a "scare tactic" to try and influence you. You know, like the "you just blew $10,000" billboard (which isn't even done by a defense attorney!) But it you are pulled over for driving under the influence (or OWI, etc.) it can be a misdemeanor.

So what does the term "misdemeanor" mean? Why is that different from a felony? Will a felony always be treated as a federal crime?Are misdemeanors not serious at all? Can a felony have a lower penalty than a misdemeanor?

The answer is: it depends.

A misdemeanor can have a variety of penalties attached to it. Same thing for a felony.

Misdemeanors are separated into types. Some types are for violations of a local ordinance. Others fall in the 93-day category, which means the judge can't sentence beyond 93 days in jail, and/or a $500 fine (plus court costs). Other misdemeanors are less than one year. The more serious misdemeanors (called high Court misdemeanors) can have up to 2 years as a possibility. As a result, these are transferred to Circuit Court, as the judges in District court can't sentence that much time (hence the name "high Court"). 

Examples of 93 day misdemeanors are assault and battery, driving under the influence (first offense), and retail fraud. Examples of one-year misdemeanors include larceny (property valued at $200 or more but less than $1,000), retail fraud in the second degree (shoplifting), and intentional discharge of a firearm (but without intent to injure). High court misdemeanors are punishable by up to two years in prison or a fine up to $2,000, or both. High court misdemeanors include indecent exposure and negligent homicide (by vehicle).

Can a misdemeanor have a higher penalty than a felony? Yes, but only in some circumstances. The thing is, the circuit court judge may have a higher sentencing ability (beyond a year), but that doesn't mean that the judge will use the maximum sentence every time. The district court judge, on the other hand, can still go up to one year. So for example, let's use a defendant who is charged with DUI second, which can have a year penalty. District Court judge can give that guy up to a year  in jail, and very well might. Same defendant a few years later would face a felony charge of DUI third, which can go much higher, from 1 to 5 years. But that higher judge might be sentencing less than the district court judge. Just because the higher judge can sentence higher doesn't mean he or she will. 

No comments:

Post a Comment