You’ve had a run-in with the police and now you’ve got a court date before a Georgia judge to answer for criminal charges. But you may not fully understand the charges. Have you been charged with a felony or misdemeanor? And what’s the difference, anyway?
In this blog I will discuss how Georgia criminal courts treat felonies and misdemeanors differently. I will explain how you can figure out what you have been charged with, and discuss the consequences of each kind of criminal offense.
In Georgia, a misdemeanor is any crime that has a maximum penalty of up to a $1000 fine, or up to 12 months in jail (or both). That includes all traffic offenses (like speeding, failure to stop, or distracted driving), but it also includes more substantial crimes. For example, all of these are misdemeanor offenses:
Georgia also has a class of offenses called “high and aggravated misdemeanors”. These are offenses that would fall into the misdemeanor category, but something about them makes them more severe (i.e. assaulting a family member, or multiple DUI convictions). They can have a penalty of up to a $5000 fine or up to 12 months in jail (or both). Any jail sentence given on a high and aggravated misdemeanor also affects the amount of good time that can be earned on that sentence.
Any crime with a maximum penalty of more than 1 year is considered a felony. This includes most of the more severe crimes you would expect (like murder, armed robbery, rape, and other sex crimes). It can also include non-violent offenses such as theft, drug offenses, and forgery.
While a felony sentence can be sentenced to probation, most sentences containing serve time measures in years verses months will be served in the State Prison System (a/k/a “the big house”). Each type of felony has a maximum prison penalty, but some also have a mandatory minimum serve time. If you are convicted of a felony, it will be up to the judge to impose a sentence based on those limits and the circumstances of your case.
There are several types of crimes that can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of the case. These are sometimes called “wobbler” crimes. For example, drug crimes “wobble” between misdemeanor and felony depending on the type and amount of drugs involved. Assault and battery can be a misdemeanor or felony depending on whether a weapon is used and how much harm is caused.
Determining whether the charges against you are a felony or misdemeanor can be confusing. An experienced criminal defense attorney can explain whether you were charged with a felony or misdemeanor, and what the possible consequences will be.
The key difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is the maximum amount of time you could spend incarcerated. Remember that these are maximums. If this is your first criminal offense, or the circumstances of your case aren’t severe, you probably won’t face that long a sentence. In fact, in some cases, your criminal defense attorney may be able to keep you from going to jail at all.
In any Georgia misdemeanor case and many felonies, the judge can suspend part or all of your sentence and order you to complete probation instead. This keeps you out of jail, but it means you will have to report to a probation officer and live under certain conditions until your period of probation is over. The terms of your probation will depend on your personal circumstances and the nature of your case. They could include requiring you to:
If you violate the terms of your probation, your sentence can kick back in and you could end up going to jail anyway.
In addition to the period of incarceration or probation, you should expect that a criminal conviction will come with fines, costs, and fees (including paying for probation and any mandatory treatment). If the crime you are convicted of did damage to other people or their property you will also be ordered to pay “restitution” to the victims to compensate them for their losses. This could include paying a store for the items you shoplifted or paying for the medical bills after an assault.
There are also a number of non-court-related consequences to a felony or misdemeanor conviction. A criminal conviction could affect your:
A future blog post will address these in more detail.
Any criminal conviction is a serious event that can affect your life, and your future. Whether you have been charged with a felony or misdemeanor, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can explain the charges and the consequences, and help you defend against conviction.
Lance McCoy of The McCoy Law Firm, LLC, is a criminal and DUI defense attorney with 25 years of experience. From his family-owned law firm in Cartersville, Georgia, he represents defendants facing misdemeanor and felony charges throughout northwest Georgia. If you have a court date scheduled, please contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia so we can begin working on your case right away.