What Is The Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

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In Arizona, a criminal offense can either be a felony or a misdemeanor. The exact designation given to an offense will depend on the severity of the offense and the sentences the offense carries.

A felony charge is as serious as it gets in Arizona. If you have been charged with a criminal offense, you may face jail time, hefty fines and in some cases, a criminal record. Do not go through a criminal trial or plea bargain without first consulting an Arizona criminal defense attorney. Your freedom depends on it.

The Difference between a Felony and Misdemeanor in Arizona

Both felonies and misdemeanors are defined by Arizona’s Criminal Code as offenses carrying sentences of imprisonment by the state department of corrections. However, the crimes that constitute a felony are different from the ones that constitute a misdemeanor.

A felony in Arizona is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor. Felonies include offenses such as murder, rape, sexual molestation of minors, aggravated assault, arson, drug smuggling, possession of dangerous drugs for sale, theft and kidnapping. A misdemeanor on the other hand is considered a less serious offense. Misdemeanors include underage drinking, possession of marijuana, trespassing and non-aggravated DUI.

Because felonies are more serious than misdemeanors, they carry heavier sentences on conviction. While the minimum jail term for a felony is 4 months, the maximum jail term for a misdemeanor is 6 months.

Felonies and misdemeanors are also classified differently. There are six classifications for felonies beginning from Class 1 felonies to Class 6 felonies. Class 1 felonies are the most severe and Class 6 the least severe. There are three classifications of misdemeanors from Class 1 misdemeanors to Class 3 misdemeanors. Class 1 misdemeanors are the most severe and Class 3 misdemeanors the least severe.

Possible Penalties for Each Class of Felonies

Class 1 felony offenses can result in a sentence of life in prison or death.

Statutory prison terms for the other classes:

  • Class 2 felony offenses carry up to 12.5 years
  • Class 3 felony offenses carry up to 8.75 years
  • Class 4 felony offenses carry up to 3.75 years
  • Class 5 felony offenses carry up to 2.5 years
  • Class 6 felony offenses carry prison sentences of up to 2 years.

Statutory jail terms for misdemeanors:

  • Class 1 misdemeanor offenses have a maximum jail term of 6 months
  • Class 2 misdemeanor offenses have a maximum jail term of 4 months
  • Class 3 misdemeanors have a maximum jail term of 30 days.

While the state of Arizona has set forth these guidelines, the prosecutor and judge have leeway to work with you and your attorney. The best thing you can do if you have been charged with a criminal offense, whether a felony or a misdemeanor, is to talk with an experienced criminal defense attorney. If you or someone you love has been charged with a criminal offense, call us today to set up a free legal consultation.