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What Is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor in Pennsylvania and NJ?

If you or a loved one has been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor, you may wonder what that means and what the differences between the two types of crimes are. Misdemeanors are more minor crimes and felonies are more serious. But both can carry significant consequences.

The Bucks County criminal defense lawyers at Young, Marr & Associates discuss how the definitions and penalties of misdemeanors and felonies are distinguished in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Understanding Felony vs. Misdemeanor Criminal Charges

State and federal legislatures decide what activities are crimes and how people may be punished for those crimes. The distinction between misdemeanors and felonies under state and federal law depends on what the maximum possible penalty for the crime is—not what punishment any person actually receives for a conviction of that crime. Classically, a felony meant the possible punishment for the crime exceeded one year of incarceration, whereas a misdemeanor’s maximum punishment would be one year or less. Many states today categorize crimes as misdemeanors that have possible punishments beyond one year of incarceration. But most federal law still uses the classic definition to interpret state laws. For example, there is a federal crime commonly called “felon in possession” where it is illegal to possess a firearm if you have previously been convicted of a “felony,” but the prior crime making you a “felon” under this law could actually be called a misdemeanor in the state where you were convicted. The definition of that crime under the federal law is that “It shall be unlawful for any person who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year… to… possess … any firearm or ammunition.” 18 U.S.C. 922(g).

Felonies are generally more serious than misdemeanors and carry longer possible prison sentences. Most importantly, felony convictions carry the possibility of losing important civil rights, such as the right to vote and the right to own a gun. For this reason, it may be an important part of your Philadelphia criminal defense attorney’s strategy to negotiate for a felony charge to be reduced to a misdemeanor so you can maintain those rights.

Pennsylvania Penalties for Misdemeanors and Felonies

In Pennsylvania, misdemeanors can carry a possible penalty exceeding one year. A first degree misdemeanor carries a possible penalty of up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines. A less serious, second degree misdemeanor may result in up to two years in prison and $5,000 in fines. The least serious misdemeanor, third degree, carries up to one year in prison and $2,500 in fines. These classifications represent the maximum possible punishment, not what punishment you must receive if you are convicted. Many crimes are resolved for much less severe penalties than their maximum. And keep in mind, based on the federal definition discussed above, first degree and second degree Pennsylvania misdemeanors are considered felonies under federal law.

The most serious felony in Pennsylvania (excluding murder charges), is first degree, where the maximum imprisonment is more than ten years, usually with a maximum of 20 years. A second degree felony carries a maximum sentence of ten years. Both first and second degree felonies may also result in up to $25,000 in fines. A third degree felony has a maximum sentence of seven years and $15,000 in fines. Again, these are the maximum penalties that the state legislature has authorized for these types of crimes—many are resolved through plea negotiations and judicial sentencing for less than the maximum based on a variety of factors, such as prior criminal history and the strength of the evidence against you. Our Philadelphia felony defense lawyers can help you navigate these complex processes and regulations.

New Jersey Penalties for Misdemeanors and Felonies

If you are charged with a crime in New Jersey, the categories are much different than in Pennsylvania and in many other states. New Jersey does not call any crimes “misdemeanors” – instead, less serious offenses are called disorderly persons offenses and are resolved in municipal court rather than criminal court.

The misdemeanor-type class of offenses is divided into two kinds: disorderly persons crimes and petty disorderly persons crimes. The lower level, “petty” disorderly persons crimes, carry a maximum incarceration of 30 days and a $500 fine. The higher level of disorderly persons crimes carry a maximum of 6 months incarceration and a $1,000 fine.

Most New Jersey crimes are labeled under the felony category, with four degrees of seriousness. The most serious first degree felony carries a possible prison sentence of ten years up to life imprisonment and a fine of up to $200,000. A second degree felony carries a possible prison sentence of between five and ten years and $150,000. A third degree felony can result in three to five years of incarceration and $15,000 in fines. And a fourth degree felony can result in a maximum sentence of 18 months and $10,000 in fines.

Under the federal definition, any New Jersey felonies would be federal felonies, while disorderly persons offenses would not be. If you were charged, contact our New Jersey criminal defense lawyers today.

Contact Our Experienced Pennsylvania and New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyers Today

Your experienced Pennsylvania and New Jersey criminal defense attorney can navigate classifying the crime you’ve been charged with and evaluate your options. Contact the offices of Young, Marr & Associates today to arrange a consultation. Call (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania or contact our firm online.

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