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March 15, 2024

Misdemeanors vs. Felonies: Understanding the Differences in Punishments

If you've been charged with a crime in Arizona, one of the first things you need to understand is whether the alleged offense is considered a misdemeanor or a felony. This legal distinction has major implications for the severity of potential punishments you may face if convicted.

At Katsarelis Law in Tucson, we know how daunting it can be to deal with criminal charges of any kind. Part of our job as criminal defense attorneys is to advise clients on what they're up against based on the nature and classification of the charges.

To give you a better understanding, here's a rundown of how misdemeanor and felony punishments differ under Arizona law:

Misdemeanor Punishments

A misdemeanor is a less serious crime, generally punishable by up to 6 months in county jail, monetary fines, probation, or a combination of those penalties. Some common examples of misdemeanors in Arizona include:

• Simple assault
• First offense DUI
• Petty theft (under $1,000)
• Disorderly conduct
• Possession of marijuana (under 2 lbs)

While misdemeanors are not as grave as felonies, they still create a permanent criminal record that could impact employment, housing, and other opportunities down the road. That's why even seemingly minor misdemeanor charges deserve a strong legal defense.

If convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor (the highest misdemeanor class), you could face the maximum jail sentence of 6 months, probation up to 3 years, and fines as high as $2,500 plus surcharges.

For less serious class 2 and 3 misdemeanors, punishment is capped at 4 months jail for class 2 and 30 days jail for class 3, along with up to 2 years probation and fines of $750-$500 respectively. Consequences increase for repeat offenses.

Felony Punishments

A felony, on the other hand, is a much more serious crime that carries harsher punishments upon conviction. Felony offenses in Arizona range from class 6 (least serious) to class 1 (most serious). Some examples include:

• Burglary
• Felony DUI
• Drug possession and trafficking
• Aggravated assault
• Manslaughter
• Murder

Unlike misdemeanors that only result in county jail time, felony convictions can lead to years or even decades behind bars in state prison. Felonies also bring heftier fines, longer probation terms, and collateral consequences that result in the loss of certain civil rights and freedoms.

For class 6 felonies like first-time drug possession, you could face 6-18 months in prison depending on any prior offenses. As the felony class rises, so do the potential punishments.

At the highest level, those convicted of class 1 felonies like first degree murder can potentially receive up to 25 years to life in prison with no chance of early release. The fines also become much steeper, reaching as high as $150,000 for the most serious offenses.

Felony convictions further bring long-lasting challenges like the loss of firearm rights, barriers to employment and housing, and the inability to vote or serve on a jury until civil rights are restored. For immigrants, a felony can result in deportation and inadmissibility to the U.S.

Plea Bargaining and Reducing Charges

Given the stark differences in misdemeanor vs. felony penalties, skilled legal representation is absolutely crucial when facing charges, especially felonies. Often, a top priority for the defense is to avoid a felony conviction at all costs by seeking a reduction to misdemeanor charges through strategic plea bargaining.

Even if felony charges can't be outright dismissed, an attorney may still be able to argue for a designation at the lower end of the class range. This makes a huge difference in sentencing.

Additionally, Arizona has revised its criminal code over the years to reduce or reclassify. Specific felony offenses in Arizona, like drug possession charges, may qualify for prosecutorial diversion programs or deferred prosecution agreements that avoid felony convictions for first-time offenders.

The key takeaway is that misdemeanors and felonies carry very different levels of severity in punishment. Understanding this distinction and building a solid defense strategy is crucial from the outset of a criminal case in Arizona.

Whether you're facing misdemeanor 0r facing prosecution, the skilled criminal defense team at Katsarelis Law can Fight to protect your freedom and future. Contact us today for a free consultation on the charges against you.

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Don’t know where to start yet? It is necessary to find yourself a highly experienced criminal defense lawyer who will help you navigate through better. Speaking with an experienced assault attorney will explain to you the available options and assist you in getting the best possible outcome.

For any charges that need an attorney to help, reach us on 520-510-0439, 177 North Church Avenue, Suite 600, or send us a mail at [email protected]. Our crime attorneys in Arizona and Tucson are dedicated to helping clients achieve the best possible outcomes in their cases. We do this by negotiating with the government, preparing for trial, and litigating motions to suppress evidence. Assault is a serious crime that could result in jail time and other penalties. Let us help you avoid these consequences as much as possible.

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