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What Is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

March 24, 2020

Knowing the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is crucial if you have been charged with a criminal offense in Pennsylvania. Depending on the crime, your offense will be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony. In some cases, your defense may rest on reducing or pleading to a different classification. Understanding how these two offenses are punished can help you work with MPL Law to plead correctly and to pursue the right defense strategy for you.

What Is a Felony?

Felonies in Pennsylvania are considered to be more serious crimes, and they are punishable by a substantial fine as well as more than a year in prison or jail. Pennsylvania has subcategories for felonies:

  • First-degree felonies. These are the most serious felonies and carry penalties of up to $25,000 of fines and up to 20 years in prison. Examples of first-degree felonies include arson, endangering human life, rape and kidnapping.
  • Second-degree felonies. Those convicted of these felonies face up to $25,000 in fines and up to a decade in prison. Examples of second-degree felonies include indecent assault, burglary where no people are present in the home or building and statutory sex crimes.
  • Third-degree felonies. Those who are convicted in the third degree face up to seven years in prison and may face fines of up to $15,000. Examples of third-degree felonies include terrorist threats, gun ownership without a permit and reckless exploding or burning.

Serious crimes such as arson, homicide, terrorist acts, arson and sex offenses are most likely to be charged as felonies, as are crimes by repeat offenders. Thefts involving large amounts of goods or items of significant value can also be charged as felonies.

What Is a Misdemeanor?

Misdemeanors are less serious offenses for which the sentence is less than a year in jail, even for high misdemeanors. Petty misdemeanors, for example, in Pennsylvania may involve fines and prison sentences of $500 or less and six months or less, respectively.

What Is the Difference in Distinction Between the Two?

In general, the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is in terms of severity. Felonies are seen as a more serious crime type and result in longer sentences and greater fines.

In situations such as theft and drug crimes, where offenses may be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors, it is best to try to get the sentence reduced to a misdemeanor, if possible. That said, misdemeanors are still considered serious and will result in a criminal record.

How Are the Two Distinguished for Drug Possession?

Drug possession can be either a felony or a misdemeanor, but how a person is charged does not depend on the amount. In Pennsylvania, the use and intention are considered when determining whether a drug offense should be a misdemeanor or felony. In most cases, possession of an illegal drug for personal use is a misdemeanor, no matter the amount involved, and possession with the intent to sell is usually a felony. Even if you are charged with a small amount of a controlled substance, you may be facing a felony if authorities allege you intended to sell or traffic the substance.

If a person is sharing a controlled substance and no money or selling is involved, they will be charged with a misdemeanor if the substance is marijuana. For other illegal drugs, sharing drugs is a felony.

One issue that may arise is that police rarely apprehend an individual in the act of selling narcotics or drugs. Thus, they take into consideration many factors when deciding whether the defendant intended to sell and thus should be facing felony charges. Police will look at how the product is packaged and will look for drug paraphernalia, written notes of sales, cash and how much of a substance is involved. If a person is found with eight kilos of a drug, for example, the individual may face felony charges because this is an amount not typical for one user.

If you are caught making or growing drugs, this is automatically a felony in Pennsylvania, even if you have no intention to distribute. Thus, growing a single plant of marijuana for your own use may result in felony charges.

When to Contact an Attorney

Both misdemeanors and felonies have the potential to change your life. As soon as you are charged with any offense, contact a defense attorney who can ensure you start protecting your rights at once. If you need an attorney in Pennsylvania, contact MPL Law to speak to our legal team.

Many law firms emphasize they will “fight” for your rights, but at MPL Law, we know getting the best outcome in your case begins with listening to you. We consider all the circumstances of your case and develop a personalized approach to your defense. We stay with you every step of the way, knowing how challenging a serious charge can be. Contact MPL Law for a consultation today if you need a Pennsylvania defense attorney.

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