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misdemeanor vs felony

What's the Difference Between a Misdemeanor vs. a Felony?

Crimes can be classified as either felonies or misdemeanors, with penalties for criminal offenses typically higher for felonies. But what are the specific consequences of being charged with a felony vs. misdemeanor? What determines the criminal offense classification of a specific act? A criminal defense attorney can help you understand.

What Is a Misdemeanor?

In most cases, the difference between felony and misdemeanor crimes is that misdemeanors are crimes that are less serious than felonies. Common criminal offenses that net misdemeanor charges include:

Generally speaking, most crimes with a misdemeanor definition incur a jail sentence of less than one year.

First-Degree Misdemeanor

felony and misdemeanor

A first-degree misdemeanor charge is the most serious form of a misdemeanor. A conviction for one can cost you up to six months in jail and $2,500 in fines for a first offense.

First-degree misdemeanor crimes include:

  • DUIs
  • Street racing
  • Shoplifting
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Resisting arrest

If you are found guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor for a second time, you will face much stiffer penalties, depending on the underlying crime.  

Second-Degree Misdemeanor

Second-degree misdemeanors in the State of Arizona are serious, but they involve softer penalties than first-degree misdemeanors. The maximum jail sentence you can receive for the first-time conviction of a second-degree misdemeanor is four months.

Common second-degree misdemeanor crimes include:

  • Reckless driving
  • Some categories of assault
  • Minor in consumption
  • Verbal Assault
  • Criminal damages

Fines may be as high as $750.

Third-Degree Misdemeanor

felony versus misdemeanor

Third-degree misdemeanors are the least serious of the misdemeanors, but they can still result in severe penalties. You may be ordered to spend up to 30 days in prison and subject to other restrictive conditions depending on the charge.

Third-degree misdemeanor charges in Arizona include:

  • Criminal nuisances
  • Loitering
  • Criminal speeding/Excessive Speed
  • Third-degree criminal trespass

You may also have to pay up to $500 in fines if convicted of a third-degree misdemeanor.

What Is a Felony?

What are felony charges, and what crimes are felonies? Felony crimes are more serious crimes, and felony charges can include jail time, significant fines, and probation.

Arizona classifies felonies as:

  • First-Degree: 10 years to life, or death
  • Second-Degree: 4 — 12.5 years imprisonment
  • Third-Degree: 2.5 — 8.75 years imprisonment
  • Fourth-Degree: 1.5 — 3.75 years imprisonment
  • Fifth-Degree: .75 — 2.5 years imprisonment
  • Sixth-Degree: .5 — 2 years imprisonment

For each of these charges, a second offense results in further jail time.

First-Degree Felony

difference between felony and misdemeanor

In Arizona, there are only two types of first-degree felonies: first-degree and second-degree murder. First-degree murder occurs when someone intentionally kills another with premeditation. It is the most serious crime in the State of Arizona and can lead to life in prison or a death sentence. Second-degree murder defines acts that are intended to kill but without premeditation or acts that create an extreme likelihood of death.

Second-Degree Felony

As only two crimes populate Arizona’s first-degree felony list, the crimes on the second-degree felony list are quite serious and include:

  • Attempted murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Kidnapping
  • Sex trafficking
  • Sexual assault
  • First-degree burglary
  • Arson of an occupied structure

The standard range of punishment for these crimes maxes out at ten years, but aggravating conditions can bump that number up to 12.5 years.

Third-Degree Felony

Third-degree felonies are serious enough to incur nearly nine years in prison if aggravating circumstances exist, though the usual sentencing range tops out at seven.

Third-degree felony crimes in Arizona include:

You can also be charged with a third-degree felony for attempting a second-degree or Class-2 felony.

Sentencing for Felonies

felony vs misdemeanor

Sentencing for felonies in Arizona is based on a presumptive range of prison time for each crime. Under certain circumstances, this range can be reduced or extended.

Mitigating factors may reduce a convicted individual’s prison time and include:

  • Their age and ability to know right from wrong
  • The existence of duress during the criminal act
  • Their cooperation after committing the crime
  • Their degree of participation in the crime

Aggravating factors can extend a sentence, and include:

  • Intentional or attempted infliction of serious bodily harm
  • The existence of an accomplice
  • Unusually cruel or heinous acts
  • Committing the felony while discharging public duties
  • Victims 65 years of age or older

If you are facing a sentencing aggravation, your defense attorney will work vigorously to present evidence of mitigation to get you the lightest sentence possible.

Felony Convictions

A felony conviction can impact your life long after you have served your time. As soon as you are convicted of a felony, you immediately lose the following rights and privileges:

  • Voting rights
  • Serving on a jury
  • Owning a firearm
  • Obtaining a commercial driver’s license
  • Qualifying for federal student loans

You will also likely face significant barriers in obtaining employment. Many employers refuse to hire individuals convicted of a felony.

What's an Infraction?

what is a misdemeanor

Infractions are the least serious levels of crime charges in Arizona. Generally speaking, an infraction definition details an offense that doesn’t mandate jail time and requires very little in the way of fines, at least when compared to misdemeanors and felonies.

They are typically thought of as “minor” offenses, but crimes nonetheless. Examples might include noise violations, ticket scalping, or trespassing. Because of their reduced severity, the punishment you might face is likely no more than a minor fine or community service, leading many to refer to infractions colloquially as a slap on the wrist. In most cases, infractions don’t even appear on your criminal record.

However, it is important to note that if you ignore any relevant fines, the consequences could escalate. So even though the name “infraction” is unassuming, it’s important to treat these offenses as serious issues.

Misdemeanor vs. Felony: What’s the Difference?

The difference between misdemeanors and felonies is largely found in the punishments for each and the impacts each has on your life. If you are being charged with a crime, a defense attorney can be instrumental in getting your charge reduced or completely thrown out. Contact the Law Office of Brian White today to speak with an experienced defense attorney ready to fight for you.

Felony Versus Misdemeanor Chart:

Felony Misdemeanor
Seriousness Most serious crimes Minor crimes
Punishment One year in prison to life and the death penalty Up to six months in prison for a first offense
Effect on Civil Liberties Loss of some important civil liberties No effect on important civil liberties

If you are charged with a Misdemeanor or Felony anywhere in the State of Arizona, don’t hesitate to call, email or text our Firm to get a consultation with our experienced criminal defense attorneys to help you navigate your case.

Did you know that our Law Firm is founded by Attorney Brandon White a Former State Police Officer and that all of our criminal defense attorneys are former prosecutors? Let us put that experience for you in your case.

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Can you expunge a misdemeanor or felony from a permanent record?

As of recently, you may now petition the court to seal a felony or misdemeanor conviction. Previously, Arizona was one of the only jurisdictions where the courts did not have the authority to seal prior records of convictions. But now, felony and misdemeanor convictions can be sealed from public view, but they are not expunged.

What are three-strikes laws?

Three-strikes laws are laws that punish third-time felony offenders with longer prison sentences, including life without parole until a minimum of 25 years is served. They began appearing across the nation in the 1990s.

Arizona does not have a dedicated three-strikes statute but does have sentencing provisions that punish repeat felony offenders with longer prison terms.