In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the criminal system divides crimes into different categories based on the severity of the offense and the potential consequences.
Two of these categories are misdemeanors and felonies. Understanding the difference between these two types of offenses is important for determining how much potential jail time, if any, the offender could possibly face for a crime.
Lawyers refer to the maximum potential jail time for each charge in a case, added together, as a defendant’s “exposure.” Sometimes the same criminal conduct or action can be classified as a felony or misdemeanor based on the age of the victim, the prior convictions of the defendant that match the conduct, or another specific circumstance of the crime.
What Is a Misdemeanor?
A crime that falls under the misdemeanor category is more serious than a summary infraction but less serious than a felony. Misdemeanors often involve crimes that are considered more serious infractions that can end up with a possible jail sentence.
Pennsylvania grades misdemeanors into three different degrees which include the following maximum sentences:
- A 1st Degree Misdemeanor involves a jail sentence up to five years and fines up to $10,000;
- A 2nd Degree Misdemeanor involves a jail sentence up to two years and a fine up to $5,000;
- A 3rd Degree Misdemeanor involves a jail sentence up to one year in length and fines up to $2,500;
Misdemeanors involve crimes that have a maximum sentence of less than five years of jail time. Many penalties that are also included under misdemeanor categories involve fines, community service or probation.
For a free legal consultation, call 215.515.3360
What Is a Felony?
Crimes that are classified as a felony are more serious types of crimes and include longer prison sentences and larger fines. Someone who is convicted of a felony often has committed a crime that society as a whole considers repugnant, such as rape, murder, kidnapping or burglary.
Because the crimes tend to be more serious in nature, the punishments are much harsher and are made to match the seriousness and severity of the crime committed. While felonies are graded like misdemeanors, their penalties do vary more depending on the severity of the crime.
Maximum possible sentences for these felony categories are as follows:
- 1st Degree Felony offenses carry a jail sentence of at least 20 years or more and can include up to $25,000 in fines;
- 2nd Degree Felony offenses involve jail sentences of at least 10 years or more and fines up to $25,000;
- 3rd Degree Felony offenses involve jail sentences of at least 7 years and up to $15,000 of fines;
Murder has its own classification separate from felonies.
One common misconception is that felony offenses are violent while misdemeanors are not. Many misdemeanors, in fact, include inflicting bodily harm.
Felonies also can include crimes that are non-violent in nature. Offenses that are not necessarily violent, like drug dealing, criminal trespass or forgery, are felony offenses. The seriousness of the crime that makes it qualify as a felony does not always mean “violent.”
If the offender has prior criminal convictions on his or her record, the penalties assessed in the current case will likely be enhanced based on that prior conviction.
If the offender has been convicted of the same crime a second or third time, the judge will consider this fact when issuing the sentence and a mandatory sentence might even apply. In addition, if the person has been convicted of a violent crime, categorized as a “strike offense” for a second time, that person will automatically receive a ten to twenty year mandatory sentence. For the third “strike offense,” he or she would automatically receive twenty-five years to life.
Defense Strategies for Misdemeanors and Felonies
Since the levels of crime and the types of sentences issued vary widely between misdemeanors and felonies, it goes without saying that the defense strategies used will also vary.
A judge may have the ability to be more creative when issuing a sentence for a misdemeanor offense, especially if this is the first time the defendant has been arrested. Since sentences including community service and probation are frequently used in misdemeanor cases, jail time is often suspended, dependent on the successful completion of community service, drug and alcohol treatment programs, probation or a combination of all of these.
When it comes to a felony, the strategies used tend to be different in that avoiding jail time completely may not necessarily be on the table but reducing the amount of time served is much more likely.
Contact The Law Offices of M.J. Snyder, LLC Today!
If you need a criminal defense lawyer, act fast and call 215-515-3360. We can help 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, including holidays.