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Understanding misdemeanors vs. felonies in New York State

The criminal justice system can be so complex that navigating it may seem overwhelming. It is important, however, to be knowledgeable about New York’s criminal justice system—especially if you have been charged with a crime.

New York State organizes offenses into three categories: Violations, misdemeanors and felonies. Most people have heard these terms before, but few are aware of the specific requirements for each category. To better understand the state's charges and the possible penalties, it is important to understand the distinctions between violations, misdemeanors, and felonies.

Violations

Violations are any offenses—not including traffic tickets—that can be sentenced with up to 15 days of incarceration. Of the three categories, violations are the least severe, and are technically not considered crimes. Someone who is charged with a violation will generally be given a ticket, a fine or, in rare cases, jail time. A few examples of violations include harassment, trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Misdemeanors

Any offense that can receive a sentence of 15 days to one year of jail time is considered a misdemeanor. Unlike violations, misdemeanors are indeed crimes. Misdemeanors are grouped into three classes, each of which varies in severity and punishment.

  • Class A misdemeanors can be penalized with up to one year in jail, three years’ probation and a $1,000 fine.
  • A court can punish Class B misdemeanors with up to three months’ imprisonment, one year of probation and a fine of $1,000.
  • Some misdemeanors are considered unclassified. This means that the offense is not defined by the law, but can still be sentenced with 15 days to one year of imprisonment.

Misdemeanors can include larceny, criminal mischief and assault, for a few examples.

Felonies

The most serious offenses are classified as felonies. A felony is any crime that can result in over one year of jail time. Certain crimes are so serious that they are always charged as felonies, such as burglary, kidnapping and homicide.

Sometimes, the court penalizes felony charges with probation or a fine of up to $5,000. But felony sentences can also include lengthy prison sentences. In rare cases, felonies can result in lifetime imprisonment. The severity of the sentence depends on the severity of the felony charge; New York State recognizes six classifications of felonies:

  • Class A-I or A-II felonies are the most severe. They can receive a maximum of life in prison, except for a drug charge.
  • Class B felonies can result in up to 25 years in jail.
  • For Class C felonies, the maximum sentence is 15 years of jail time.
  • Class D felonies can result in up to seven years of imprisonment.
  • Class E felonies, the least severe, can be punished with up to four years in jail.

As you can see, anyone who is charged with a criminal offense in New York State faces some serious consequences. Being convicted of a crime, or even a violation, could put your job, your reputation and your future at risk. A skilled criminal defense attorney who is fluent in New York’s justice system can assist New Yorkers who have been charged with violations, felonies or misdemeanors.

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