Being charged for any type of crime puts a lot on the line. From fines and court-ordered classes or community service to terms of imprisonment and the long-term consequences associated with having a conviction on your record, any criminal charge can threaten your freedom and your future.
At The Law Offices of Jed Silverman, our Houston criminal defense attorneys have decades of combined experience defending clients charged with all types of state and federal crimes, including both misdemeanors and felonies. While we work aggressively in any case we handle, there are distinct differences between misdemeanors and felonies that any accused individual should be aware of.
Misdemeanors and felonies are the primary offense groups for crimes in the state of Texas. These classifications are used to identify the seriousness of an alleged offense and determine the potential punishment. Here are some key differences between the two offenses:
The defining characteristic of a misdemeanor offense is that it does not carry a punishment of more than one year in jail – typically a county jail. Although all cases are difference and punishment can be impacted by the unique circumstances involved, misdemeanors commonly carry a punishment that includes:
- Fines, court fees, and restitution
- Community service
- Court ordered classes or treatment
- Terms of imprisonment not exceeding 1 year
In Texas, there are a number of misdemeanor crimes, ranging from shoplifting to simple assault to most first and second DWI offenses. These misdemeanors are also classified into three separate categories that speak to the offense’s severity and potential penalties:
- Class A Misdemeanor – Fines up to $4,000 and terms of imprisonment in jail for up to one year.
- Class B Misdemeanor – Fines up to $2,000 and terms of imprisonment for up to 180 days in jail.
- Class C Misdemeanor – Fines up to $500 and no jail time.
Felonies are classified in most states as crimes that can result in a year or more in state prison, or a federal penitentiary if the felony was a federal crime. In Texas, felonies include crimes that are punishable by imprisonment for at least six months to live, and in some cases death. Felonies are the most serious criminal offense, and they can carry severe and life-altering penalties that include:
- Hefty fines / restitution
- Lengthy terms of imprisonment
- Loss of civil rights (voting, gun ownership)
- Court ordered classes or treatment
Aside from the harsh penalties handed down by the court, felonies are also notable because they can severely limit opportunities in life for convicted individuals. Often, felonies can prove to be a stain that greatly impacts a person’s ability to find employment and earn a living, or even obtain funding or attend higher education. Felonies can also hurt one’s reputation. In Texas, there are 5 levels of felony offenses:
- State Jail – Between 6 months to 2 years in state jail, and fines up to $10k
- Third Degree – Between 2 and 10 years in state prison, and fines up to $10k
- Second Degree – Between 2 and 20 years in state prison, and fines up to $10k
- First Degree – Between 5 and 99 years in state prison, and fines up to $10k
- Capital – Life sentence, without parole or death
Other Factors to Consider
Misdemeanor and felony crimes, as well as the penalties they pose, can vary widely depending on a number of circumstances. There are also a few important things to note:
- Wobblers – Some crimes are referred to as wobblers, meaning that prosecutors may have the discretion to charge an individual with a crime as either a misdemeanor or a felony. In these cases, reducing a felony charge to a misdemeanor can be quite a positive resolution.
- Aggravating Factors – In both misdemeanor and felony cases, certain aggravating factors can elevate the penalties a person faces, and in some cases elevate a misdemeanor to a felony. These aggravating factors can include prior convictions and criminal history, crimes committed while on probation, crimes committed against certain individuals (law enforcement, children, vulnerable adults), and others.
Whether you or someone you love has been charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, keep in mind that both offenses pose serious immediate and long-term consequences and that they should both be taken seriously. As soon as possible after a charge, place your trust in our proven legal team at The Law Offices of Jed Silverman.
If you would like to discuss your case with an attorney from our firm, contact us for a FREE consultation.