Distinguishing a Florida Misdemeanor from a Felony: A Basic Guide

People are often confused by the distinction between felonies and misdemeanors. Simply put, the difference lies in the severity of the penalties applicable.

Criminal law in the State of Florida is usually divided into two categories: felonies and misdemeanors. There is another classification, called “common law crimes”, but those designations usually have attributes of the other two categories as well. To complicate matters, there are also different severity classes included in each category. Criminal law can absolutely be difficult to understand for those who do not deal with it daily.

County courts have original jurisdiction for nearly all misdemeanor cases. Circuit courts deal with all felonies, with juvenile misdemeanors and with misdemeanors resulting from the commission of a felony (with some exceptions). This is a somewhat simplified explanation, and the system is far more complex. Therefore, hiring a competent criminal defense lawyer not only makes good sense — it is a necessity.

A misdemeanor is a criminal offense punishable by jail time of less than a year. Misdemeanors are not as “serious” as felonies, and they are further separated into various degrees. A second-degree misdemeanor may result in a 60-day jail sentence. A first-degree misdemeanor offense may leave the perpetrator behind bars for up to a year. Other penalties may also come into play; courts can sentence those guilty of a misdemeanor to probation ranging from six months to a year.

Suspects in Florida should be aware that conviction of a first-degree misdemeanor may result in the revocation of probation granted for a previous offense. Judges may order such offenders to jail for the full term applicable under the circumstances of their previous offense (with credit for time already served), no matter how long the person has been on probation.

Typically, those who commit misdemeanors do not serve time in a state prison — unless they have been charged with and convicted of a felony and misdemeanor and the sentences run concurrently. As such, sentencing guidelines and the Criminal Punishment Code do not apply to misdemeanors.

Driving under the influence (DUI), battery, petit theft, possession of marijuana, driving with a suspended or revoked license and culpable negligence charges may be reclassified to a higher degree. This reclassification depends on the number of charges and convictions the person has faced previously and on any other aggravating factors. In other words, a DUI may not be “just” a DUI if the person charged has a long prior record of many more.

In Florida, courts are shifting to a more regimented, structured sentencing system. That system eliminates some judicial discretion dealing with misdemeanors — meaning that judges are required to impose certain penalties at sentencing.

The laws regarding Florida misdemeanors and felonies are changing, and those changes affect those who are charged. If you are charged under the any of the newer revisions to the law, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you get through the process. If you attempt the process on your own, you may end up with an unexpected, unhappy result.

If you face a felony or misdemeanor charge, learn about your rights and find out how the newer laws apply to you.

Thomas C .Grajek is a criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, Lakeland, and Polk County Florida. To contact a Lakeland criminal defense attorney or to learn more, visit http://www.flcrimedefense.com/ or call 863-688-4606.

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