Understanding Criminal Law Basics: Differentiating Between Misdemeanors and Felonies
Almost everyone has seen movies and TV shows about criminal cases, but in all likelihood, your case will be nothing like what you see in the entertainment media, even the depictions that were based on true events. In order to build suspense and hold the audience’s attention, screenwriters choose to write about cases where there is more than one plausible interpretation of the evidence presented at trial or where there is room for disagreement about whether a certain witness is credible or whether a certain piece of evidence is admissible in court. In fact, the vast majority of criminal cases do not go to trial, but that does not simply mean that everyone pleads guilty and goes to prison. A Tempe criminal law attorney can help you get your charges dropped or get acquitted if you are being accused of a misdemeanor or a felony in Arizona.
Criminal Law: Felonies, Misdemeanors, and Petty Offenses
It would not be appropriate to treat every violation of the law in the same way. Changing lanes without using a turn signal is clearly not on the same level as murder, although they are both against the law. Therefore, Arizona classifies violations of the law into three categories, namely petty offenses, misdemeanors, and felonies. Petty offenses are not technical crimes; they are minor violations of the law that do not involve bodily injury. Minor traffic violations account for a large share of petty offenses. The maximum penalty for any petty offense is a $300 fine; you cannot get probation or jail time.
Misdemeanors are minor crimes that do not result in serious injury or catastrophic financial losses. For a class 3 misdemeanor, the maximum penalty is 30 days in county jail and a $500 fine. For a class 2 misdemeanor, the maximum penalty is four months in jail and a $750 fine, and for a class 1 misdemeanor, the maximum penalty is six months in jail and a $2,500 fine. Judges often have the option to impose a probation sentence instead of jail time for defendants convicted of misdemeanors. Meanwhile, Arizona law recognizes six different classes of felonies. The least severe is class 6, which are offenses that the state has the option to prosecute either as a misdemeanor or a felony; some states refer to this category of crimes as “wobbler offenses.” The only class 1 felonies are first-degree murder and second-degree murder, which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. All of the other felony categories come with prison sentences of varying lengths.
If you are accused of a misdemeanor or a felony, you have the right to plead guilty or not guilty, and you have the right to representation by an attorney. A public defender will represent you free of charge if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer.
What Happens if You Get a Felony Conviction?
If you get a felony conviction, you lose the right to vote. If it is your first felony conviction, Arizona law automatically restores your right to vote as soon as you complete your sentence. If you have more than one felony conviction, you must petition the court for restoration of your voting rights. A felony conviction also results in the loss of your right to own firearms.
Misdemeanor Convictions Can Have Serious Consequences, Too
You do not get a prison sentence or lose your voting rights for a misdemeanor conviction, but you should take misdemeanor charges seriously. The court can impose surcharges in addition to the fines, so a misdemeanor conviction can be financially burdensome. If you get probation, then violations of your probation terms can lead to you getting a long rap sheet that started with a relatively minor incident.
What Should You Do if You Are Being Charged With a Misdemeanor for the First Time?
If you are facing misdemeanor charges for the first time, your goal is to emerge without a criminal record. Your criminal defense lawyer may be able to persuade the state to drop the charges against you. This may require you to enter a pretrial diversion program, where the court will drop your charges if you successfully complete a year of probation; if the charges are for drug possession or drunk driving, the court may order you to undergo treatment for substance abuse disorder.
Contact Singular Law Group About Misdemeanor Charges
A criminal law attorney can help you avoid jail time if you are being charged with a misdemeanor, Contact Singular Law Group PLLC in Tempe, Arizona, to set up a consultation.
A Tempe criminal defense lawyer can help you avoid a conviction if you are facing charges for a misdemeanor or felony.