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The Differences between Misdemeanors and Felonies


Stephen Harris is the owner of the Law Office of Stephen Harris, where he works as a defense attorney for clients in Charleston and the surrounding areas. According to Harris, knowing the differences between a felony and a misdemeanor is very important—especially to a person who is being charged with a criminal offense.


When a person is charged with a crime, it generally falls into one of two categories – a felony or a misdemeanor. Being able to have a charge lessened from a felony to a misdemeanor could mean shrinking the amount of required jail time, which is why it is so important to work with a defense lawyer in Charleston who knows the federal criminal system well.


Felony Crimes

Felonies are generally reserved for more serious offenses, and they usually carry a penalty of more than one year of prison time if convicted. Additionally, felony crimes are those that cannot be expunged from a criminal’s record. The only way a convicted criminal can have a felony crime taken off of his record is by getting a pardon from the governor in whichever state he resides.


Misdemeanor Crimes

On the other hand, misdemeanor crimes are usually those that carry a maximum penalty of less than one year of prison time. That is, even if a defendant is found guilty, the most amount of time he will have to spend incarcerated is one year. Because the maximum amount of time a defendant can be sentenced to jail for a misdemeanor crime is only one year, a jury is not usually used for these types of trials. Instead, a judge in a magistrate court will usually handle the sentencing in these cases himself.


In my experience, defendants in Charleston who work with federal criminal defense lawyers can actually get some misdemeanor crimes expunged from their records after three years have passed. Examples of crimes that could be expunged include someone who was convicted of careless operation of a motor vehicle. Someone in this case could very likely work with an attorney to have the misdemeanor crime expunged, or erased, from his record by a court judge at a later date.


Special Misdemeanor Offenses

In a few cases, there are some misdemeanor crimes that carry more than one year of prison time. Misdemeanors that fall into this category are classified as “special misdemeanors,” and they generally carry a maximum jail time of three to 10 years. Like felonies, special misdemeanors cannot be expunged from a criminal’s record, and they will stay with a person for the rest of his life.


In South Carolina, being charged with possession of cocaine would usually be one of these special misdemeanor offenses, since the penalty for the crime can be up to three years in prison. Likewise, aggravated assault is another special misdemeanor that carries more than a year of prison time if convicted—sometimes up to 10 years of prison time, in fact, depending on the merits of the case.


Depending on the facts of the case, there are a

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