Felony Defense Attorney
The term “felony” and “misdemeanor” refer to categories of a criminal offense. The primary significance of a crime being categorized as felony or misdemeanor is the extent to which the crime may be punished.
What is a Felony?
In most states, including Florida, the term “felony” is understood to be a crime that is punishable by over a year in prison. The term “misdemeanor” usually refers to minor crimes punishable by a jail term of 12 months or less.
Common Felony Offenses
Examples of felony offenses include property crimes (grand theft, fraud, burglary, and arson); violent crimes (aggravated assault, aggravated battery, robbery, and attempted murder); drug crimes (possession, sale and delivery, and trafficking in cannabis, cocaine, and other controlled substances); and traffic crimes (fleeing and attempting to elude, driving while license suspended as Habitual Traffic Offender, driving under the influence and driving while license suspended when committed as a repeat offender).
Florida Criminal Law
Over time, the Florida legislature passed statutory laws to supersede court-made common law as to whether a particular offense is deemed a felony or misdemeanor. Florida law establishes the following guidelines for punishment of felonies:
1. A third degree felony is punishable by up to 5 years in jail, 5 years of probation, and a $5,000 fine.
2. A second degree felony is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and a $10,000 fine.
3. A first degree felony is punishable by up to 30 years in prison, 30 years of probation, and a $15,000 fine.
4. A life felony is punishable by life in prison without parole and a $15,000 fine.
The Florida legislature’s classification of a crime as a felony or misdemeanor is not without logic, but can be subjective. For example, the illegal manufacture, distribution or possession of controlled substances may be a felony, although possession of smaller amounts may be only a misdemeanor. Possession of a deadly weapon may be generally legal, but carrying the same weapon into a restricted area such as a school may be deemed to be a felony. Driving under the influence, driving while license suspended, battery, and prostitution may be misdemeanors if a first offense, but subsequent convictions may constitute felonies.
Aggravating Factors Relating to the Crime
Aggravating circumstances involved in the crime itself can result in re-classification of an offense at a higher level. For example, battery is normally a misdemeanor of the first degree, however, a battery on a law enforcement officer is a felony of the third degree. Other aggravating circumstances include the use of a mask, gun, or other weapon in the commission of a crime, or if the assault or battery involves a school employee or elderly person.
Aggravating Factors Relating to the Accused
Aggravating factors regarding the person convicted of a crime can also result in sentencing for longer terms. A person that qualifies as a Habitual Felony Offender, Habitual Violent Felony Offender, Violent Career Criminal, or Prison Releasee Re-Offender, or who qualifies under the Anti-Murder Act, is subject to significantly longer prison terms and minimum mandatory sentences.
You should be aware of collateral consequences that could result from a criminal conviction, other than what are included in the sentence imposed by the court. Depending on the crime, collateral consequences of a criminal conviction may include:
- Suspension of driver’s license
- Exclusion from purchase and possession of firearms, ammunition, and body armor
- Exclusion from obtaining professional or occupational business licenses
- Ineligibility for government assistance and federally funded housing
- Ineligibility for serving on a jury
- Ineligibility to vote
- Ineligibility for public office
- Deportation (if the person is not a citizen)
- Civil commitment under the Jimmy Ryce Act
Job applications and rental applications frequently ask about criminal history. Answering dishonestly can be grounds for rejecting the application, or termination if the lie is discovered after hire. Landlords will often not rent to persons convicted of a crime due to the risk of legal liability if the renter commits another crime. Many banks will refuse service to convicted felons. In many states, it is perfectly legal to discriminate against persons convicted of a crime in hiring, rental, and credit decisions. As a result, a criminal conviction can present a significant barrier to getting a job, housing, and credit.
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