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What is the difference between a misdemeanor and felony charge?

Being charged with a crime is a serious event for individuals in Iowa and elsewhere. While each crime has its own distinct elements and penalties, facing any type of criminal charge often causes a defendant to endure serious consequences. Nonetheless, it is important to understand the elements of the crime you are charged with and what potential serious penalties may be involved.

Crimes are divided into different categories. This mechanism of categorization not only determines how the court system will treat the particular case, but also what penalties could be placed on a convicted offender. For example, an infraction, which is the least serious type of crime, typically occurs when a police officer issues a person a ticket. An infraction frequently results in a ticket, a fine and little to no court time. Infractions include acts such as traffic tickets, jaywalking and some minor drug possession charges. These crimes are much less serious than misdemeanors and felonies.

What is the difference between a misdemeanor and felony charge? A misdemeanor is more serious than an infraction and is typically a crime that is punishable by up to a year in jail. Sometimes, the jail sentence is served at a local county jail versus a high security prison. For the most part, prosecutors have a large degree of flexibility when deciding what crimes to charge and what kind of plea bargains to negotiate.

On the other hand, felonies are the most serious type of crimes and are punishable by prison sentences that are greater than a year. Because the penalties can be so severe, the courtroom procedures are strictly observed. This is to ensure that the defendant's rights are protected. Felonies are typically crimes that are viewed harshly by society, such as murder, rape, burglary, kidnapping and arson. However, felonies are punishable in a range of ways so that the penalties match the severity of the crime.

Even when a defendant is charged with a felony or misdemeanor, it is possible to take steps to fight the charges. This could help the accused reduce charges or even dismiss them. In order to take such steps, it is important to understand the defense options and what steps a defendant can take to protect his or her rights along the way.

Source: Findlaw.com, "What Distinguishes a Misdemeanor From a Felony?" accessed April 23, 2017

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