Felony and misdemeanor charges are classifications for common criminal charges. However, what is the difference between felonies and misdemeanors, and what should one expect if charged with either of these types of offenses? While the court process is similar for misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, and felonies, there are important differences.
First, it must be established that misdemeanors are different from felonies, both in their level of seriousness and the available punishment that may be applied to the offender. Examples of common misdemeanors include DWI‘s, reckless driving, or minor theft. Misdemeanors are often charged by citation and do not result in an arrest. However, some misdemeanor offenses, such as 4th Degree DWI, do result in an arrest.
The first court appearance in a misdemeanor case is called an arraignment. At the arraignment, the offender will be notified of the charges against them and their right to have an attorney. The offender may either plead guilty or not guilty. Upon pleading guilty, the judge will proceed directly to sentencing. However, if the defendant pleads not guilty, a pre-trial hearing will be scheduled. The defendant may choose to plead not guilty to attempt to avoid the time or because they believe that there is not sufficient evidence to convict them.
During a pre-trial, the attorneys discuss the case and often a plea-bargain is reached. If a plea bargain is not reached, the defendant must make another appearance in court for trial, either by a jury of 6 people or only a judge. If the defendant is found guilty, the judge will proceed to sentencing. Sentencing may occur on the day that the defendant is found guilty or later.
Sentences for misdemeanors are not nearly as severe as felony sentences. The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor offense is up to 90 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. Examples of common misdemeanor sentences include community service, probation, or a short period in jail or on electronic home monitoring.
A felony is the most severe offense under Minnesota law. An offense punishable by death or by a sentence longer than one year is defined as a felony. Common felonies include murder, kidnapping, robbery, and most drug offenses. Gross misdemeanors are intermediate level offenses under Minnesota law. They are punishable by up to one year in jail and up to a $3,000 fine. Second and third offense DWIs and some drug offenses are gross misdemeanors.
Felony and gross misdemeanor offenders are generally arrested. After arrest, the defendant must make an initial appearance in court. During the initial appearance, the defendant is informed of the charges that have been brought against them and their rights regarding an attorney. The initial hearing usually takes place within a day or two of the arrest. However, it can take longer if the defendant is arrested on a weekend or if there is a court holiday. At this initial hearing bail and/or conditions will be set and a future hearing will be scheduled. The defendant is not required to enter a plea at the first appearance in felony and gross misdemeanor cases.
Following the initial hearing, an omnibus hearing will be scheduled. During this hearing, the prosecution must produce evidence to provide probable cause for the charges. If the state cannot provide the requisite evidence, the defendant may be able to have the case dismissed. If probable cause is not in dispute, the attorneys will generally discuss potential plea bargains in an attempt to resolve the case.
If the case proceeds beyond the omnibus hearing, there will often be a pre-trial or settlement conference scheduled to see if a plea agreement can be reached short of trial. If not, the case will be scheduled for a trial. As with misdemeanor cases, the defendant has the choice whether to have their trial in front of a judge or jury. In a felony case the jury is made up of 12 people. In a gross misdemeanor case the jury is made up of 6 people.
The defendant may plead guilty at any time in the process. If a defendant pleads guilty or is convicted following trial, the judge will generally order a pre-sentence investigation report and schedule a date for a sentencing hearing. This report is essentially a book report on the defendant and the information is used by the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney in determining an appropriate sentence. If the defendant has been sentenced to serve a period of time in prison, they will be taken into custody immediately. If a defendant is sentenced to a period of local jail time or electronic home monitoring, the judge will generally allow them to select a date to turn themselves in within a few weeks.
Whether you are facing a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, or felony charge, it is important that you retain the services of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. Contact the BK Law Group today for your free consultation.