What is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony in Georgia?
The formal and informal punishments are the biggest difference between misdemeanors and felonies in Georgia.
As outlined below, the biggest difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is the range of punishment. As importantly, many people view misdemeanors and felonies differently. Frequently, defendants who commit misdemeanors have made poor choices, at least in the minds of many people. To many of these same people, defendants who commit felonies are bad people.
Many offenses, such as assault, drug possession, and DUI, can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the circumstances in the case. Reducing felony charges to misdemeanor charges is one way for a Norcross criminal defense lawyer to successfully resolve a criminal case. The defendant still faces punishment, but the direct and indirect consequences of that punishment are much lower than they would have been otherwise.
By definition, a misdemeanor is an offense that’s punishable by up to 12 months in jail.
Most prosecutors offer probation instead of incarceration in a county jail or other facility. That is not because prosecutors are merciful or understanding. Jails cost lots of money. Probation does not cost as much money. The costs to the state are lower, and defendants must pay supervision and other fees.
Probation is not always a good alternative. In many cases, a Norcross criminal defense lawyer arranges for a defendant to serve a few weeks in jail. That is often better than a few months of intense court supervision, especially if the defendant has issues with authority or difficulties adhering to a strict schedule.
Court supervision usually includes community service, behavioral counseling, and other conditions. Most probationers must also pay fines and costs in addition to the aforementioned supervision fees.
Georgia usually divides misdemeanors into two classifications: an ordinary misdemeanor or a high and aggravated misdemeanor. The big difference is the maximum fine ($5,000 instead of $1,000).
What is Georgia’s Definition of a Felony?
The consequences for a felony are generally much higher than misdemeanors. They also carry a longer statute of limitations, with the state having the ability to pursue charges four years after the fact, or as long as seven years for crimes against minors. For crimes like murder, there is no statute of limitations.
The general definition of a felony applies within the state of Georgia. In short, it is a criminal offense that carries with it a prison sentence of between 1 and 20 years. It can also mean life in prison or the death penalty. Considered some of the most serious crimes a person can commit, felonies often involve some element of violence or acts that could be dangerous to the public.
There are several types of felonies, ranging from crimes against people (murder, assault) or property (robbery, arson) to crimes that involve fraud or endanger the public, such as acts of terrorism. The state of Georgia, however, has its own classification of felonies that are commonly called “The Seven Deadly Sins.”
The Seven Deadly Sins
In the state of Georgia, a particular group of crimes is prosecuted at a much higher level than other felonies, carrying with them 10 years in jail without the possibility of parole. A second conviction of any of these offenses carries with it a mandatory sentence of life without parole.
These “Seven Deadly Sins” are:
- Armed robbery
- Aggravated child molestation
- Aggravated sodomy
- Aggravated sexual battery
It is worth noting that while each of these crimes carries a 10-year prison sentence minimum, in the case of murder, that requirement jumps to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole until at least 25 years have been served. Murder could also potentially mean the death penalty.
Even outside of these seven crimes in particular, Georgia law carries several stipulations when it comes to felonies. For example, a second conviction of any felony offense apart from one of these seven will result in a full sentence without possibility for parole. Most second offenses will require the maximum sentence lengths, but the judge can probate or suspend all parts of the sentence. Beyond a second offense, the law gets even more strict. For example, 3 offenses require the maximum sentence length, but the judge cannot suspend or probate any portion, and there is no eligibility for parole.
Georgia’s “Three Strikes Rule” Law
Technically, this law imposes strict penalties upon the fourth offense rather than the third, but regardless, it shows that the State of Georgia is not afraid to throw the book at repeat offenders. Under the tenets of this law, anyone who has been convicted of three felonies in Georgia or elsewhere, will serve the maximum legal sentence for a fourth conviction. The judge will not be legally able to reduce sentencing, there will be no early release and no opportunity for parole until the maximum sentence has been served.
What Are the Maximum Penalties?
More serious crimes carry stricter penalties in the state of Georgia. These will vary case-by-case, but it essentially boils down to the following:
- Sexual battery of a child*, obstructing a police officer has a sentence of 5 years in prison.
- 2nd Degree Burglary has a sentence of 5 years in prison.
- Theft by extortion, aggravated stalking has a sentence of 10 years in prison.
- Armed carjacking, aggravated assault or battery has a sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Armed Robbery has a sentence of Life in prison.
- Child Molestation has a sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Aggravated Child Molestation has a sentence of Life in prison.
- Aggravated Sexual Battery has a sentence of Life in prison.
- 1st Degree Burglary has a sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Statutory Rape has a sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Incest, enticement of a child under 16 years of age has a sentence of 30 years in prison.
- Second-degree murder has a sentence of 30 years in prison.
- Kidnapping has a sentence of 10-20 years in prison.
- Rape has a sentence of 25 years or Life in prison.
- Murder with aggravating circumstances has a Death penalty sentence.
* Under Georgia law, a child in this scenario is anyone 16 years or younger.
What Penalties Exist Beyond Sentencing?
Even those who have been convicted of a felony and served their time find that the punishment continues long after they have been freed from jail. Unless you are acquitted or apply for a record restriction, a felony conviction remains on your criminal record for life, which will make it much harder to seek out a loan, obtain housing, get a job or retain custody of children. If you are granted a record restriction, your felony conviction will only be visible to government officials and law enforcement, but not to the general public. Otherwise, they will be a matter of public record.
There are also several civil liberties and privileges that can be taken away as the result of a felony conviction. Some are temporary, but some are permanent. They include:
Voting rights: Under Georgia law, you lose your right to vote upon conviction until your sentence has been served.
Second amendment rights: In the state of Georgia, anyone with a felony conviction is forbidden from receiving, possessing, or transporting a firearm without express permission from the government.
Right to run for office: Any person whose record contains a felony of “moral turpitude” is forbidden from holding office in the state of Georgia for at least 10 years following conviction.
Right to travel: As a convicted felon, you may hold a passport, but other countries may bar you from entry based on your criminal record.
Custody rights: A felony conviction on your record could lead a judge to reject your rights to retain custody of your children.
Rights to public benefits: A felony conviction could have a negative impact on your eligibility for social benefit programs ranging from public housing and food stamps to state and federal grants and financial assistance.
Driving privileges: Conviction of certain drug- or vehicular-related felonies can lead to your driver’s license being suspended for a set period or revoked entirely.
Possible registration as a sex offender.
Work With a Diligent Gwinnett County Criminal Defense Lawyer
Both felony and misdemeanor convictions have serious consequences. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Norcross, contact Zimmerman & Associates, Attorneys at Law. We routinely handle matters in Fulton County and nearby jurisdictions.