Most states, New York among them, divide criminal charges into two broad groups: felonies and misdemeanors.
What does that mean for you when you’re facing charges? Well, if you’re charged with a misdemeanor, you cannot face more than 364 days in jail (and generally will face much less) if you’re convicted. If you’re charged with a felony, however, you’re looking at least one year in jail and the potential for much longer.
Within each broad category of offenses (misdemeanor or felony), there are many different “classes.” The higher the class of the charge, the more serious the crime. For example, a Class A felony is reserved for crimes like murder and kidnapping, while a Class E felony – while still serious – is reserved for certain DWI or theft crimes, and Class A misdemeanors are more likely to involve jail time than Class B misdemeanors.
What about wobbler crimes?
Some offenses can be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor, and that’s entirely up to the prosecution. These are called “wobbler” crimes. When making the decision on how to charge you, the prosecutor may look at a variety of factors including:
- How active was your role in the crime?
- What kind of prior criminal history do you have?
- How cooperative were you with any criminal investigation?
- How likely are you to offend again (or never offend again)?
- How strong is the evidence of your guilt (and the prosecution’s case)?
- Was anybody injured or did they suffer severe financial losses in the commission of the crime?
When you’ve been charged with a crime for the first time, it can feel like you’re not even speaking the same language as the court officials around you. Understanding the nature of your charges and the potential consequences is hard enough, and actually defending your case can be impossible without experienced legal guidance. Part of your defense may include negotiating for a felony charge to be reduced to a misdemeanor, whenever possible.