What Is the Difference Between Misdemeanor and Felony Criminal Charges?
Misdemeanors and felonies are the two broad classifications of crimes in the State of Nevada. Within those two classes, there are additional categories, based on the severity of the violation. The class and category of a criminal violation affects potential penalties, as well as the other consequences of a conviction. Understanding the classification of criminal charges is an important part of developing a defense strategy. Regardless of the type of crime, representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney is essential to asserting the best defense to any type of crime.
Nevada Crime Classifications
A Nevada statute, NRS 193.120, establishes the classifications of crimes in the state. The law begins by stating that “A crime is an act or omission forbidden by law and punishable upon conviction by death, imprisonment, fine or other penal discipline.”
Subsection 2 classifies a crime punishable “by death or by imprisonment in the state prison” as a felony. Subsection 3 establishes misdemeanors as crimes “punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000, or by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than 6 months.” Finally, Subsection 4 states that every crime that does not fall under Subsection 2 or 3 is a gross misdemeanor.
The statutory classifications make it clear that there are two distinguishing penalty characteristics between misdemeanors and felonies: First, the sentence for a felony is served in a state prison. In contrast, the sentence for a misdemeanor is served in county jail and cannot exceed six (6) months. Second, the fine for a misdemeanor cannot exceed $1,000. Felonies carry potential fines that can be considerably higher.
Differences in Penalties for Misdemeanors, Gross Misdemeanors and Felonies
Individual sections of Nevada law address penalties for the classifications of criminal charges. The possible punishment for a crime varies significantly, based on the classification of the charge.
NRS 193.150 addresses misdemeanors, providing that the penalties for conviction may include serving up to six (6) months in county jail, or a fine of not more than $1,000, or both, unless a specific law provides different penalties for the specific charge. In addition, the law allows the defendant to be sentenced to perform a fixed period of community service in lieu of jail and a fine, under specific conditions.
NRS 193.140 specifically addresses gross misdemeanors, stating that the penalties for a gross misdemeanor may include imprisonment in the county jail for up to 364 days (less than one year), a fine of not more than $2,000, or both. The law also states that a specific statute can provide for a different penalty for an individual gross misdemeanor.
Rather than treating felonies as a single category for purposes of penalties, the law categorizes felonies on the basis of severity, with category A felonies being the most serious and category E felonies being the least serious. Specific statutory provisions applicable to an individual felony charge establish the category for that violation.
NRS 193.130 defines penalties for felony categories as follows:
(a) Category A: Death or imprisonment in the state prison for life with or without the possibility of parole, as provided by specific statute
(b) Category B: A minimum term in state prison of not less than one (1) year and a maximum of not more than 20 years, as provided by the specific statute
(c) Category C: A minimum state prison term of not less than one (1) year and a maximum of not more than five (5) years, plus (in the court’s discretion) a fine of not more than $10,000, unless a greater fine is authorized or required by statute
(d) Category D: A minimum state prison term of not less than one (1) year and a maximum term of not more than four (4) years, plus (in the court’s discretion) a fine of not more than $5,000, unless a greater fine is authorized or required by statute
(e) Category E: A minimum term in state prison of not less than one (1) year and a maximum term of not more than four (4) years, with the possibility of probation under specific terms and conditions
These provisions make it very clear how both the classification (misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, felony) and the category of felony significantly affect the potential penalties in a criminal case. The substantial differences are an important reason why representation by a criminal defense lawyer is essential, regardless of what charge you face.
Other Differences Resulting From Classification and Category
In addition to the difference in potential penalties for a charge based on the classification and felony category, the type of criminal charge also affects how a conviction impacts other aspects of your life. While any charge on your record is publicly available and can affect employment, housing, and financing opportunities, more severe felony offenses have a greater impact on these parts of your life than lesser misdemeanor charges.
Another important distinction arising from the classification and category of a criminal charge is the ability to seal the criminal record of a conviction. Nevada law establishes waiting periods that must be met before a person can apply to request sealing of a record, although some specific offenses are not eligible for record sealing at all.
Examples of waiting periods for sealing include: One (1) year for some specific misdemeanors; two (2) years for category E felonies, gross misdemeanors, and other specific misdemeanors; and ten (10) years for category A felonies and certain other crimes. Other categories of felonies and enhanceable misdemeanors have waiting terms of five (5) and seven (7) years. The bottom line is that the classification and category of a crime affects the person’s eligibility for sealing the record of a conviction.
The classification and category of a crime may also affect other legal issues, such as child custody matters, the ability to own or possess firearms, and status of non-citizens. Overall, the impact of the nature and type of crime can go far beyond affecting potential penalties.
Classification and Felony Category in Defense Strategy
The significant differences in the penalties and other consequences arising from the classification and category of a criminal charge make it clear that minimizing the type and level of a charge is an important element of a strong defense strategy, regardless of what type of charge you may face. Your criminal defense lawyer explains these implications as part of representing you in a criminal case, and takes them all into account as part of your defense.
Schedule a Free Consultation with a Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorney
If you face any state or federal criminal charge in Las Vegas, Henderson, or elsewhere in Clark County, criminal defense attorney Joseph Gersten is here to help. His investigative background and trial experience enable him to provide an aggressive defense for any criminal charge.
At The Gersten Law Firm, there is no charge for your initial consultation and case evaluation. Call 702.857.8777 or complete our online form to schedule an appointment.