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When Misdemeanors Escalate Into Felonies



Crimes are classified into three categories: Infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. Felonies are the most serious crimes that bring with them the more severe punishments. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, while infractions (sometimes known as violations or petty offenses) are minor crimes where a fine is normally the only possible punishment. Certain types of crimes may be categorized as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the specific details of the crime.

Misdemeanor or Felony?

As a rule of thumb, a misdemeanor crime brings with it no more than a year in jail. Oftentimes, a misdemeanor results in a fine and/or probation, with no jail time at all. A felony, on the other hand, is normally punishable by at least a year in jail.

States often break felonies down into classes, degrees or grades to indicate the relative seriousness of a crime. For example, in New York felonies are categorized from Class A1 (the most serious crimes) to Class E (the least serious felonies). In the Texas penal system, a capital offense is the most serious felony, followed by a first degree felony, second degree felony, third degree felony and state jail felony.

Upgrading Criminal Charges

Some types of offenses may be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony based on the specifics of the crime. For example:

  • In Illinois, if you're charged with possession of marijuana, it is a misdemeanor offense if you have 30 grams or less and if it is your first offense. However, if you are in possession of 10 to 30 grams of marijuana and you have a previous conviction for possession, the charge will be upgraded to a felony.
  • In Florida, if you're charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, the specific charges will depend on whether you have prior DUI convictions and whether you were in an accident that caused bodily harm.

In some instances, prosecutors may initially charge you with one crime, then upgrade the charges against you. For example, if you were in an accident and driving while intoxicated and someone else was injured, you might be charged with a misdemeanor. If that person subsequently died from his or her injuries, the charges might be upgraded to a felony.

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