Violations of the law can carry a wide range of consequences, from a simple fine all the way up to life in prison. Only those violations that carry a possible penalty of incarceration are characterized as crimes. But not all crimes are created equal. The more serious crimes are known as felonies, while less serious crimes are known as misdemeanors. Most states have two-tiered trial courts, with the lower level handling misdemeanor offenses and the higher level handling felony cases.

The Potential Sentence

The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is determined by the possible length of incarceration upon conviction. A felony is generally punishable by more than a year of incarceration, and the sentence is served in a state prison or federal penitentiary. In contrast, a misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum sentence of one year incarceration, and the sentence may usually be served in a county jail. The length of the actual sentence imposed is irrelevant; it is the potential sentence that determines whether a crime is a felony or a misdemeanor.

The Collateral Consequences

Once a defendant has completed serving a sentence for a misdemeanor conviction, there are usually few residual consequences. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for a felony conviction. There are collateral consequences that continue to follow a convicted felon even after he has completed serving his sentence. Some of these consequences are mandated by the state or federal legislature, while others are discretionary and may be imposed by the judge at the time of sentencing. Depending on the nature of the offense, felony convictions may result in loss of the right to vote and to carry a firearm; ineligibility to work at certain occupations that require licensure; ineligibility to serve as a juror; or mandatory registration as a sexual offender.

Big or Small, a Crime is Still a Crime

Regardless of whether you are facing a felony or a misdemeanor charge, the potential impact on your future can be far reaching. The best course of action in the event of an arrest for any crime is to immediately invoke your right to remain silent and right to counsel, and then seek legal advice as soon as possible to help achieve the best possible outcome for your case. And in the event of a felony conviction, counsel may be able to assist you in restoring civil rights or eliminating mandatory registration requirements.

Facing criminal charges and their aftermath can be a stressful experience. But the good news is that you don’t have to go it alone. Professional legal representation by a firm that specializes in criminal law can help ensure that your constitutional rights are protected and will go a long way to mitigate the potential negative impact on your future. Contact us today to get started on your case.