Felonies are the most serious crimes in the criminal system. But what does that mean? Offenses are broken down into three groups: infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. Infractions are not classified as crimes at all. This is important to understand because with a civil infraction you do not have the right to an attorney or the right to a jury trial. It is also important to understand that civil infractions aren't considered criminal convictions. A civil infraction is something where jail is legally not possible. Before we get into crimes the first concept to understand is that there are two types of criminal law in the United States: state and federal. Each state has its own criminal laws. The federal government has its own criminal laws. I am explaining general topics but every state is different so when I discuss specific state issues, I am discussing the State of Maine, where I am licensed.
Misdemeanors are crimes with a possible punishment of less than one year in jail. There are many different types of misdemeanors but in Maine they are divided into two groups: Class E misdemeanors punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine and Class D misdemeanors punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Felonies are the most serious type of criminal charge. Felonies are crimes where the possible punishment can be one year or more. In Maine, felonies are divided into three groups: Class C felonies punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine, Class B felonies punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine and Class A felonies punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
To make things slightly more confusing many crimes have variations that can be a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the specifics of the case. For example, a first offense OUI in Maine is a Class D misdemeanor; however, if you do the same thing but have two prior OUI convictions on your record within the last 10 years it is a Class C felony.
The specific criminal charge will depend on the specific facts the state is alleging and may also depend on the criminal history of the person charged.
As always, if you have a question about a specific case or charge you should contact an attorney. They can help!