What Is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

difference between misdemeanor and felony

What Is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

Serious violations of the law can result in a misdemeanor or a felony charge. At Van Norman Law, we have experience defending both misdemeanor and felony charges for a wide range of crimes. To help you understand your rights and what to expect, we put together this guide on the difference between misdemeanor and felony charges.

What Is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

The main difference is that misdemeanor crimes have much less severe penalties than felonies. Typically, sentences for misdemeanors are served in county jails, while felony sentences are spent in state prison. Both misdemeanor and felony criminal charges of any level can result in additional fees and surcharges on top of any fines you are given. 

What Is a Misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is a crime that is considered more serious than a petty offense, but less serious than a felony. Arizona law divides misdemeanor charges into three different classifications, with class 1 being the most severe. If you have any prior convictions for the same offense, the penalties increase. Examples of Arizona misdemeanor crimes include driving under the influence (DUI), shoplifting, resisting arrest, and driving on a suspended license. 

Misdemeanor Classifications

  • Class 1 misdemeanors can earn you a jail sentence of 6 months, or 3 years of probation, and up to $2,500 in fines. Second and subsequent class 1 misdemeanor offenses result in a maximum of one year in jail or no more than $150,000 in fines. 
  • Class 2 misdemeanors can result in a maximum of 4 months in jail or two years of probation, as well as a maximum fine of $750. A second or subsequent offense results in six months maximum jail time or three years probation, and up to $2,500 in fines.
  • Class 3 misdemeanors can earn you one month in jail or one year of probation, and a fine of up to $500. A second or subsequent offense results in a maximum of four months in jail or 2 years of probation and a $750 maximum fine. 

What Is a Felony?

A felony is the most serious type of criminal charge. In Arizona, there are six different classes of felonies. A class one felony is the most severe, while a class six felony is the least serious. Along with a prison sentence, felony convictions can earn you up to $150,000 in fines as well as additional fees and surcharges. Examples of Arizona felony offenses include homicide, aggravated DUI, aggravated assault, and burglary. 

Violent vs. Nonviolent Felonies

Felony classifications are divided into violent and nonviolent crimes. According to Arizona law, a violent crime is any “criminal act that results in death or physical injury.” Using a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument when committing a crime also qualifies as a violent crime, even if no one was injured. Violent crimes carry higher prison sentences and fines than non-violent crimes.

Felony Classifications

  • Class 1 felonies only include first and second-degree murder. A first-degree murder charge in Arizona results in the death penalty or life in prison. Second-degree murder can earn you 10-25 years in prison for a first offense, or 15 to 29 years if you have any prior class 2 or 3 felony convictions. 
  • Class 2 felonies can earn you 3 to 21 years in prison for a first offense. With prior class 2 or other felony convictions, the prison sentence ranges from 4.5 to 35 years.
  • Class 3 felonies result in 2.5 to 15 years of prison time for first-time offenders. Prior class 3 or other felony offenses can earn you 3.25 to 25 years in prison. 
  • Class 4 felonies carry prison sentences of 1 to 8 years for a first offense. The prison sentence can range from 2.25 to 15 years with prior class 4 or other convictions. 
  • Class 5 felonies may earn you 6 months to 4 years in prison with no prior convictions. With one or more prior class 5 or other felony offenses, the sentence ranges from 1 to 8 years of prison time.
  • Class 6 felonies can result in prison sentences of 4 months to 3 years for first-time offenders. The sentence increases and ranges from 9 months to 6 years in prison with prior class 6 or other felony convictions. 

Dangerous Crimes Against Children

When the victim of a dangerous offense is under the age of 15, that offense is considered a dangerous crime against children. These types of crimes have a separate set of sentencing ranges that are not impacted by the level of felony classification. The prison sentences for crimes against children can range anywhere between 2.5 and 37 years in prison, depending on the severity of the crime and the age of the child. 

Criminal Defense Lawyer in Scottsdale

If you’ve been convicted of a crime in Arizona, the team at Van Norman Law can help you understand your rights. Our expert criminal defense attorneys will go over the specifics of your case with you and help you build a strong defense. Call 480-481-0616 to schedule your free consultation. 

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