What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?

Under the common law a felony is crime that is punishable by more than a year in prison and misdemeanor is a crime that is punishable by up to one year in jail. What constitutes a felony and what constitutes a misdemeanor varies wildly from state to state. While the delineation of any criminal offense over one year being a felony is the same across states and derives from the common law each state will have different levels or degrees or categories used for sentencing purposes. A misdemeanor is by definition up to one year in jail, but, as with felonies, there are different categories or levels for the purpose of sentencing.

The State of Florida Specifically defines felony and misdemeanor in Florida Statutes section 775.08. A felony is defined as any crime that can be punished under the laws of the State of Florida or would be punishable if committed in the State of Florida by imprisonment in a state penitentiary or by death. Florida Statute 775.08 further defines a state penitentiary to include state correctional facilities and explains that a defendant convicted of a term that exceeds 1 year shall be imprisoned in a state penitentiary.

The State of Florida breaks felonies into several different degrees. These degrees are capital felony, life felony, first degree, second degree and third degree. Florida Statutes sections 775.082 and 775.083 outline the requirements for the various different felony degrees.

A capital felony is a crime that is punishable by a sentence of up to death. Florida is one of several states that impose the death penalty. First-degree murder, felony murder, capital drug trafficking and capital sexual battery are all crimes punishable by death.

A life felony is a crime that is punishable by a sentence of up to life in a state penitentiary and a fine of up to $15,000.

A first degree felony is a crime that is punishable by up to 30 years in a state penitentiary and a fine of up to $10,000.

A second degree felony is a crime that is punishable by up to 15 years in a state penitentiary and a fine of up to $10,000.

A third degree felony is a crime that is punishable by up to 5 years in a state penitentiary and a fine of up to $5,000. Third degree is the default classification for felonies that are not otherwise designated in the other degrees.

As with felonies, Florida Statutes section 775.08 defines misdemeanor as a crime that can be punished by up to 1 year of imprisonment. However, the statute provides that this imprisonment is not in a state penitentiary, but instead a county correctional facility. Specific violations of law are exempted from the definition of misdemeanor. Any non-criminal traffic violation of Florida Statutes chapter 316 or violations of municipal ordinances or county ordinances are not misdemeanors.

Felony convictions also carry with them so called collateral consequences such as losing the right to possess firearms, or to vote or hold public office. Some felonies even require registration as a sex offender or sexual predator.

Like felonies, misdemeanors in the State of Florida are broken out into degrees. The degrees of misdemeanors in Florida are first degree and second degree. Misdemeanors of the first degree can be punished by the full term of misdemeanor punishment, up to 1 year in a county correctional facility and a fine of up to $1,000. Misdemeanors of the second degree are much less severe carrying on up to 60 days in a county correctional facility and a fine of up to $500. As with felonies, a misdemeanor not classified specifically as a misdemeanor of the first degree defaults to a misdemeanor of the second degree.

As with felony convictions a misdemeanor conviction may have collateral consequences such as driver’s license suspension.

Different felony and misdemeanor offenses also trigger different statutes of limitation. Once the particular crime has been committed the state must begin prosecution within a certain time period or otherwise lose the ability to prosecute. Capital felonies, life felonies and felonies that result in death do not have a statute of limitations. First degree felonies have a 4 year statute of limitations and all other felonies have a 3 year statute of limitations. Misdemeanor statutes of limitation are one or two years for second degree and first degree respectively.

There is one category that is below the misdemeanor definition in the State of Florida. Any offense which is punishable in the State of Florida or by the State of Florida which can have no penalty other than a fine, forfeiture or other civil penalty is called a noncriminal violation. There is no legal disability that arises from commission of a noncriminal offense. Convictions for violations of municipal ordinances or county ordinances are exempted from classification as noncriminal offenses as well. Just for safe measure, the State of Florida only defines a crime as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Florida Statutes section 162.22 empowers municipalities to designate enforcement methods and penalties for violations of ordinances that the municipality adopts. Violations of county and municipality ordinances may lead to issuance of a citation, a summons, a notice to appear in county court or even arrest per Florida Statutes chapter 901. The limitations of punishment for violations of county of municipal ordinances are fines not to exceed $500 and imprisonment of no more than 60 days. One such example of arrests stemming from ordinance violations is the 2011 Orlando arrests for violations of an ordinance against feeding the homeless in the park surrounding Lake Eola.

From the Author: Felony and Misdemeanor

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