Your Quick Guide to Felony vs. Misdemeanor Charges in Pennsylvania
You never imagined you or a loved one would be arrested, but here you are. Now what?
First, take a deep breath. From there, it’s time to figure out what to do. You need to understand what you’re being charged with and the severity of the sentence you could be facing.
To do that, it’s vital to understand the difference between a felony vs misdemeanor. Keep reading for a complete breakdown.
What is a Misdemeanor Charge?
A misdemeanor is a (relatively) less serious crime. Because of this, punishment for misdemeanors is typically less serious than punishment for felonies, though they are more serious than summary offenses (petty offenses typically punishable by fines but not jail time).
Misdemeanors are a sort of middle ground between summaries and felonies. In most states, they carry up to five years in jail time but can also include payment of fines, community service, and restitution.
List of Misdemeanors by Class
Misdemeanors are split into three levels:
- First degree (up to five years incarceration and no more than $10,000 in fines)
- Second degree (up to two years incarceration and no more than $5,000 in fines)
- Third degree (up to one year incarceration and no more than $2,500 in fines)
However, certain crimes, like DUIs, have mandatory minimums associated with them, which means that the court must impose a minimum sentence level. For some crimes, if it is the second or third offense of the same nature, the level of misdemeanor can be increased.
Here are a few examples of misdemeanors in Pennsylvania, broken down by class.
- Simple Assault (of a child)
- Prostitution (for the fourth or subsequent time)
- Possession of an controlled substance (based on how many priors)
- Multiple DUI offenses
- Theft of property (worth less than $2,000 but more than $200)
- Impersonating a public servant
- Simple Assault (of an adult)
- Theft of property (worth less than $200 but more than $50)
- Prowling at night
- Defiant Trespass
- Possession of marijuana
- Disorderly conduct
- Theft of property (worth less than $50)
As you can see, a crime’s classification is mostly due to the scale of the crime in question.
What is a Felony Charge?
While misdemeanors are relatively minor offenses, felonies are the most serious of crimes. They are defined as crimes which often involve serious physical harm (or risk of physical harm) to victims, though there are nonviolent (but serious) felonies such as white collar crimes. Possession of a Controlled Substance with the Intent to Deliver is a felony in Pennsylvania which has very serious collateral consequences.
Keep in mind, though, that certain crimes that would have been misdemeanors can be elevated to felonies if the offender is a second-time or higher offender.
Whereas a misdemeanor charge primarily focuses on time in jail and fines, felonies can range from one year in prison at the low end to life in prison without parole (or even the death penalty) at the far end.
List of Felonies by Class
Like misdemeanors, felonies are broken into three classes:
- First degree (up to 20 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines)
- Second degree (up to 10 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines)
- Third degree (up to 7 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines)
Like misdemeanors, certain felonies in Pennsylvania carry a minimum sentence, which means that the court must impose at least the minimum sentence for that crime regardless of other mitigating factors.
Alternately, someone may receive a harsher sentence if they have been convicted of previous crimes. The severity of the crime is also taken into consideration–Robbery where someone is injured is treated much more seriously than a robbery where someone is threatened and not harmed.
Here are a few examples of felony charges in Pennsylvania, broken up by their classification.
- Burglary (of a home)
- Arson endangering persons
- Assault with Serious Bodily Injury Caused or Threatened
- Theft of property (worth $500,000 or more)
- Burglary (of a commercial property)
- Statutory sexual assault
- Assault with a Deadly Weapon (no injury)
- Aggravated Indecent assault
- Aggravated assault
- Theft of property (worth less than $500,000 but more than $100,000)
- Institutional sexual assault of a minor
- Carrying a gun without a permit and certain other gun crimes
- Possession with intent to distribute
- Possession of child pornography
- Theft of property (worth less than $100,000 but more than $2,000)
There are, however, certain non-categorized offenses. In these cases, the court is responsible for determining the appropriate sentence based on the crime in question. Non-categorized offenses include Murder Generally, meaning first, second, and third-degree murder.
Felony vs Misdemeanor
So, what is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?
The difference comes down to the scale of the crimes. Misdemeanors are generally less serious crimes in which fewer people were harmed or the amount of monetary loss is less, while felonies are usually more serious with a wider range of harm.
While crimes are usually classed as a felony or misdemeanor based on the type of crime, the classification will be decided based on your criminal history, the victims, and the seriousness of the crime.
Do You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney?
Once you know the difference between a felony vs misdemeanor, it’s time to figure out your next steps. For that, you need a criminal defense attorney, and you need one quickly. A good attorney may be able to help reduce your charges, get you a plea bargain, or even have your case dropped all together.
That’s where we come in. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of M.J. Snyder are ready to fight for your rights. Call 215-515-3360 to schedule your free consultation today!