Understanding the Difference between a Felony and a Misdemeanor

In Pennsylvania, as in most states, criminal offenses are either categorized as misdemeanors or as felonies. The difference between these types of crimes centers generally on the seriousness of the offense. In addition, felonies generally involve more substantial penalties than misdemeanors. Some crimes may be charged as felonies or as misdemeanors, giving prosecutors latitude based on the desired punishment.

As a general rule in Pennsylvania, misdemeanors are violations of the law that carry a penalty of less than a year in jail or prison. All other offenses are considered felonies. Felonies typically carry significantly higher fines as well.

The types of crimes that are typically charged as felonies include certain repeat offenses, as well as first time offenders who commit serious crimes. Acts that are always treated as felonies include murder or homicide, terrorist acts, kidnapping, robbery, arson and most sex crimes. Theft offenses can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors based on the value of goods or cash stolen.

Misdemeanors in Pennsylvania fall into three categories:
• Petty misdemeanors, where the sentence is less than six months in jail or a fine of $500 or less
• Ordinary misdemeanors
• High or gross misdemeanors

Some infractions punishable only by a fine, such as certain traffic offenses, are typically not considered crimes at all.
In Pennsylvania, all criminal violations are violations of statutes. This means that the legislature has enacted a specific law that makes certain conduct punishable as a criminal offense. In all instances, the legislature will define whether the criminal act is a misdemeanor or a felony, or whether the prosecutor has some leeway.

When you have been charged with a crime, or are under investigation for criminal activity, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Your attorney will protect your rights in all dealings with prosecutors or police, so that you don’t say or do anything that tends to incriminate you, or that can be used against you at trial. You should also exercise your constitutional right to remain silent. Don’t give the state any additional ammunition against you. Let your attorney do your talking for you.

At Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLP, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. For an appointment, contact us by e-mail or call us at 717-233-5292. We speak Spanish and understand the impact a criminal charge can have on your efforts to become or remain a permanent citizen.

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