The federal government classifies federal crimes as misdemeanors or felonies. More serious offenses are felonies and carry a prison sentence of more than one year. Less severe crimes are misdemeanors and are punishable by imprisonment for one year or less.
Whether you have been charged with a federal misdemeanor or felony, a conviction can substantially impact your life. Not only can you face prison time, but you may also be subjected to various other consequences that make it difficult for you to readjust to society.
Although sanctions may be imposed for a conviction, they are not a guarantee. When you’re accused of a federal crime, you have the right to defend yourself, casting doubt in the minds of the judge or jury about your alleged guilt. By weakening the prosecutor’s arguments against you, you increase your chances of avoiding a conviction and, thereby, penalties. And if you are found guilty, you may be able to argue for lesser sanctions. A criminal defense attorney can help build your legal strategy, negotiate with prosecutors, or present your case in court.
The Definition of Federal Felonies
Federal felonies are crimes carrying a potential conviction penalty of more than one year. Offenses are separated into five groups, depending on their severity.
The classifications include the following:
- Class A felony
- Punishable by life imprisonment or death
- Class B felony
- Punishable by 25 years or more of imprisonment
- Class C felony
- Punishable by 10 to 24 years of imprisonment
- Class D felony
- Punishable by 5 to 9 years of imprisonment
- Class E felonies
- Punishable by more than 1 year to 4 years of imprisonment
Several crimes fall under the federal felony classification. Generally, the federal statutes do not explicitly state which group the offense is in. Instead, they indicate the number of years’ imprisonment attached to the crime.
Examples of federal felonies include:
- First-degree murder (18 U.S.C. § 1111): The killing of another person with malice aforethought, by premeditation, while committing or attempting to commit a specified felony, or as part of a pattern of assault. Murder is punishable by death or life imprisonment, making it a Class A felony.
- Kidnapping (18 U.S.C. § 1201): Unlawfully transporting a person across state lines or country borders and holding the individual for some reward. The crime carries a sentence of imprisonment for any number of years to life. Kidnapping is a Class B felony.
- Child pornography (18 U.S.C. § 2252): Transporting, producing, selling, or receiving a visual depiction of a child involved in sexual conduct. Conviction penalties include 5 to 20 years of imprisonment, making the offense a Class D or C felony.
- Drug trafficking (21 U.S.C. § 841): Unlawfully manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing a controlled substance. The penalties for a conviction depend on the type and amount of drugs involved. For instance, trafficking a Schedule IV controlled substance carries a conviction penalty of up to 5 years of imprisonment, making it a Class D felony. In contrast, trafficking a Schedule I or II controlled substance can be penalized by no more than 20 years, making it a Class C felony.
- Mail fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1341): Using the U.S. Postal Service or a commercial carrier to further a scheme to defraud. The court can impose a prison sentence of not more than 20 years, making the offense a Class C felony.
The Definition of Federal Misdemeanors
Federal misdemeanors are considered less serious than felonies. They carry a term of incarceration of 1 year or less.
The federal government has three classifications of misdemeanors:
- Class A misdemeanor
- Punishable by incarceration for 6 months to 1 year
- Class B misdemeanor
- Punishable by incarceration for 30 days to 5 months
- Class C misdemeanor
- Punishable by incarceration for 5 to 29 days
Like felonies, the misdemeanor classification is typically not explicitly stated in the statute for the offense. However, the potential term of incarceration is.
A few examples of federal misdemeanors include:
- Simple assault on certain officers or employees (18 U.S.C. § 111): Assaulting, resisting, impeding, intimidating, or interfering with a United States officer or employee. Punishments include incarceration for up to 1 year.
- Simple possession (21 U.S.C. § 844): Having a small amount of a controlled substance. A person found guilty of the offense can be sentenced to incarceration for not more than 1 year.
- Willfully failing to file a tax return or pay taxes (26 U.S.C. § 7203): Sending their federal return or paying the required obligation. The offense is a misdemeanor punishable by a term of incarceration not to exceed 1 year.
- Counterfeiting military discharge papers (18 U.S.C. § 498): Creating, using, possessing, or presenting fake or altered discharge papers from the military or naval service. Penalties include incarceration for up to 1 year.
- Intimidation of voters (18 U.S.C. § 594): Threatening or coercing a person to influence how they vote in a federal election. The term of incarceration upon a conviction cannot exceed 1 year.
Collateral Consequences of a Federal Conviction
Collateral consequences are those arising not from the statute for the crime itself but from other laws, rules, or policies. Several can be attached to a federal felony or misdemeanor conviction.
Some collateral consequences include:
- The loss of the right to serve on a federal jury: This sanction applies when someone has been convicted of a crime punishable by 1 year or more in prison.
- The loss of the right to hold federal office: A criminal conviction can cause a person to be ineligible for a federal office appointment or federal employment.
- The loss of federal benefits: Persons convicted of drug trafficking or possession may be ineligible for federal benefits for a certain number of years.
- The risk of deportation: A conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude can cause a person to be inadmissible to or removed from the U.S.
- The loss of gun privileges: A person can lose their firearm rights if convicted of an offense carrying a prison term of more than 1 year.
Contact Keegan, Tindal & Jaeger Today
Federal crimes can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the severity of the offense. In addition to incarceration, a person convicted can face fines and collateral consequences. If you have been accused of a federal offense, retain legal services immediately. Fighting the allegations requires thorough preparation and a full analysis of the facts.
Our Iowa City team provides experienced legal counsel to those facing federal charges. Call us at (319) 499-5524 or contact us online today.