The U.S. legal system categorizes crimes based on their severity, although classifications can differ between states. The most common criminal charge tiers, from least to most severe, are:
U.S. law is tricky, as each state has its own laws and classifications regarding what types of criminal activity fall under each tier. If you’re charged with one of these crimes, it’s crucial to understand how they work.
Defining Misdemeanor and Felony Classifications
One general differentiation between misdemeanor and felony crimes is the length of the prison sentence if found guilty. Most misdemeanors carry a sentence of a year or less while felony sentences can last years, decades or even a lifetime.
Misdemeanors are considered more serious than infractions, like tickets or citations, but less serious than a felony charge, as they’re viewed as “crimes of moral turpitude.” When a suspect is charged with a misdemeanor, they’re typically issued a fine and at most incarceration in a local county jail, although incarceration is usually rare with misdemeanors. Misdemeanors also have their own tier categories from petty misdemeanors, which could entail a sentence of less than six months in jail and a fine of $500 or less, to high or gross misdemeanors, which potentially entail imprisonment in a state prison.
Depending on the local legislature, prosecutors and judges can have flexibility when it comes to charging and sentencing for criminal actions. In some states, “wobbler” crimes may result in either a misdemeanor or felony charge, depending on the prosecutor’s approach and the judge’s sentence. However, federal law still follows strict federal sentencing guidelines for misdemeanors.
Felonies are the most serious charges issued in the U.S., and they are separated into their own unique tiers. Fines and sentences vary depending on the severity of the crime, which include serious crimes such as DUI, assault, murder, robbery and more. Felonies are punishable by fines and severe imprisonment for a year or more in a state prison instead of a local temporary jail.
A key aspect to felony charges is the “Three Strikes Law” adopted by half of the states in the U.S. The Three Strikes Law states that an offender may be imprisoned for life upon conviction of their third guilty felony, with the requirement that one of the charges must be a violent felony serious enough to warrant lifetime incarceration. Although it’s designed to protect the public from dangerous re-offenders, opponents argue that the law is focused more on incarcerating offenders, creating a social class of incarcerated Americans, rather than devoting resources to educating and rehabilitating them.
Immigrants with work permits or those who are applying for citizenship can be deported to their country of origin by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they receive a guilty verdict in a felony court case or if they plead guilty to one. The felonies most associated with this process are typically related to terrorism, murder and kidnapping.
Protect Yourself with Legal Representation from Burgos & Associates, LLC
Facing misdemeanor or felony charges can be overwhelming, especially if you’re unfamiliar with your state’s laws or judicial system. Receive legal representation you can depend on with the attorneys at Burgos & Associates, LLC. We represent defendants charged with misdemeanors and felonies, from drug-related and violent crimes to traffic violations.
Led by the expertise of New Orleans attorney Cesar Burgos, Burgos & Associates has a repertoire of excellent attorneys at law to represent you and protect your rights. Our attorneys have years of experience handling high-level criminal cases, constructing an aggressive defense, ensuring our clients don’t get caught in the trappings of the U.S. legal system and providing clarity on the severity of the charges levied at our clients.
Contact Burgos & Associates today to receive a legal consultation.