A felony is an offense that carries a jail term of more than a year. But a misdemeanor is an offense that is punishable with a jail term of less than a year. Every crime committed in the United States of America is either a felony or a misdemeanor.
Can the offense of a felony get reduced to a misdemeanor? Yes, it’s possible.
What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?
A felony is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor. In fact, they are the most serious crimes that can be committed. Felonies have very long jail sentences and fines. Many felons often lose their freedom when they commit this offense.
The term felony doesn’t have the same or uniform meaning throughout the states in the US. The federal statute define it as a crime with a punishment of more than one year. Some states do not classify their criminal offenses at all, such as New Jersey and Maine. Some even use the term but do not define it.
Federal laws even classify the term felony. According to the federal statute, the offense is:
- Class A felony when the greatest punishment is life imprisonment or death.
- Class B felony when the punishment is twenty-five years or more.
- Class C felony when the punishment is less than twenty-five years but ten or more years.
- Class D felony when the punishment is less than ten years but five or more years.
- Class E felony when the punishment is less than five years but more than one year.
The classifications are based on the amount of prison time. Examples of felonies include:
- Aggravated assault
- Rape/Sexual assault,
- Check fraud
- Copyright infringement
- Child pornography etc
A misdemeanor is a lesser crime than a felony. A misdemeanor is any more minor crime committed. The US considers any offense which is subject to a punishment of a year or less, as a misdemeanor.
Small crimes such as:
- Petty theft.
- Trespass to property.
- Trespass to person, etc. are all seen as misdemeanors. These crimes are punishable by fines, short jail-term, loss of civil rights, loss of privileges and loss of professional licenses. Jail time is served in a local county and not in a high-security prison.
For example, a drunk driver may lose his driver’s license if he is convicted of a misdemeanor. We can see that misdemeanors are unserious crimes, so adjudication is always faster. There is no need to go on long trials before a case of a misdemeanor is judged.
Also, there is no court-designated lawyer for the defendant, except if it is a case of felony. Generally, misdemeanors are crimes that are not high degree.
A misdemeanor can be classified under the federal statutes as:
- Class A misdemeanor when the punishment is one year or less but more than six months.
- Class B misdemeanor when the punishment is six months or less but more than thirty days.
- Class C misdemeanor when the punishment is thirty days or less but more than five days.
- An infraction is an offense which is punishable by five days or less, or if no imprisonment.
How to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor.
Conviction of a felony carries jail time and probation. The consequences of a felony sentence are far more than that of a misdemeanor. It is always better to try to get the crime reduced from felony to misdemeanor. This is because the sentence will be less harsh.
To get a felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor, these tactics can be employed by a lawyer:
During criminal proceedings, the state assigns a lawyer to the defendant. Criminal lawyers have a lot of experience when it comes to plea bargaining. This begs the question, what is plea bargaining?
Plea bargaining is a process of negotiating between the prosecution and the defense. The defendant pleads guilty to a lesser offense. So, he receives a lower prison sentence or a lenient one. Rather than wait for a jury trial, the sentence is settled by a plea deal.
For example, if the prosecution believes that it would have a difficult time proving a serious bodily injury in a felony aggravated assault case. It may be willing to accept a guilty plea for assault, which is a misdemeanor.
Negotiations are based on the strengths and weaknesses of each case. The facts and circumstances of each case are different.
Petitioning to Reduce a Felony to a Misdemeanor
Some states in the US offer the option to ask a court to reduce a charge of felony to a misdemeanor. The first thing to do is to check if this is possible within the state that you are.
The next thing to do is to get the paperwork necessary. Ask the court clerk what forms you need to fill to reduce the charge. The form encompasses:
- Personal information
- Information about the case
- Punishment given
5 Why you want the charge reduced.
States give different requirements for reducing a charge. For example, in California, a felony may be reduced if the offense was a wobbler. A “wobbler” is a crime that the prosecution can choose to charge as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Offenses such as burglary or assault with a deadly weapon. In Indiana, the charge must have been a “Class D” felony and not been related to a violent or sexual crime.
There are other requirements needed, as well. The states impose to help reduce a felony to a misdemeanor. For example, in California, you are not eligible if you’ve served time in prison. You still stand a chance if you are on probation or in county jail.
In Indiana, you must not be a sex offender, a pending criminal trial, a felony conviction. You must wait three years after serving your sentence seeking an application.
District Attorney (DA) or Judge
The district attorney or judge may decide to reduce a charge of felony to a misdemeanor. Law enforcement agents can not reduce a charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. Only the DA and judge can do this at their discretion.
The District Attorney may file a misdemeanor after reviewing the case. The case enters the court system as a misdemeanor, even though a felony arrest was made. The case is treated as a misdemeanor and punishable by jail time of a year or $1000 fine.
In situations where the District Attorney has failed to reduce the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor, the judge may do this by discretion. This can be done at the preliminary hearing, sentencing, during or after probation.
We can see instances whereby the court may reduce the crime. We can also see instances whereby the defendant pleads for the reduction of the charge of felony to a misdemeanor.
So many factors go into the decision to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor. They vary from the crime to the stage of proceedings and the defendant. Once the charge drops from a felony to a misdemeanor, then there was never a felony
A charge drop from a felony to a misdemeanor means your record will show a misdemeanor.