They fidget. They lick their lips. They shift eye contact and fiddle with their pen and with the business card they hold between their nervous fingers until finally someone breaches the question - “What's the worst-case scenario?”
What the client wants to know is the maximum penalty for the crime of which he or she has been accused. Will they be fined? Could they go to jail? Will they do time in the state prison? And if so, for how long?
While the answers to these questions are dependent upon a number of factors, including the defendant’s past record and their current relationship with the justice system (i.e. whether they are currently serving time, are on parole, etc.), one of the most important factors in determining the maximum penalty for the crime of which they have been accused is the severity of the crime itself.
In Michigan, crimes are generally divided into two categories: “serious” crimes, known as felonies, and “less serious” crimes known as misdemeanors. What is the difference between the two, and how does this distinction influence your possible sentence?
Misdemeanors are breaches of local ordinances or state laws that cause substantially less damage to people or property than a felony, and which are punishable by a maximum of one year in jail. There are two main types of misdemeanors: 93-day misdemeanors and 1-year misdemeanors.
As their name implies, 93-day misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum of 93 days in jail and a $500 fine or triple the value of any items stolen (whichever is greater), plus court costs. Examples of this kind of misdemeanor include a first-offense DUI; driving without a license; and shoplifting, embezzling, or destroying less than $200-worth of goods.
A 1-year misdemeanor is similar in nature to a 93-day misdemeanor, but the value of the items stolen, embezzled, or destroyed are between $200 and $1,000. A second-offense DUI also falls in this category. In addition to up to 12 months in prison, a person who is convicted of this kind of misdemeanor can also pay up to $1,000 in fines (or triple the value of any items stolen), plus court costs.
Felonies are serious crimes that do or have potential to do significant damage to another person, group, or piece of property. They include everything from writing a bad check (over $500) to first-degree murder, and are punishable by a prison term of more than one year.
Michigan divides felonies into eight classes, based on their severity, with a predetermined maximum prison sentence for each class. Because capital punishment was abolished by Michigan in 1846, the maximum sentence for any class of felony is life in prison, plus any applicable fines and court fees.
Class H Felonies:
Class H felonies are those for which a prison sentence may be replaced with another form of punishment, such as probation or electronic monitoring. Crimes in this category include possessing or using a credit card without the consent of the owner, driving with a suspended license, and welfare fraud over $500.
Class G Felonies:
Class G felonies carry a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment and includes third-degree child abuse, second-offense domestic assault, and writing a bad check of $500 or more.
Class F Felonies:
Class F felonies are penalized with up to 4 years in prison and include possession of the less than 5 kg of marijuana, cultivation of over 20 plants, failing to register as a sex offender, and refusing to pay child support.
Class E Felonies:
Felonies in this class can be punished with up to 5 years in prison. Applicable crimes include: forgery, embezzlement of over $1,000, shoplifting over $1,000 worth of merchandise, and third-offense DUIs.
Class D Felonies:
Class D felonies see a sharp increase in prison time with a 10-year maximum sentence. These include embezzlement of over $20,000, grand larceny (over $20,000), assault with intent to do great bodily harm, and possession of methamphetamine.
Class C Felonies:
Class C felons can receive up to 15 years in prison following crimes such as manslaughter, robbery, or second-degree sexual assault,
Class B Felonies:
A Class B felony is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and includes crimes such as second-degree child abuse and the production of pornography.
Class A Felonies:
Class A felonies are the most egregious crimes and are punishable by up to life in prison. Applicable crimes include first and second-degree murder, kidnapping, and first-degree rape.
A third category of crime, which falls between a misdemeanor and a felony, is called a high-court misdemeanor. These crimes are generally less less serious than true felonies, but carry a longer prison sentence than a misdemeanor - up to 2 years. Examples of this type of crime includes indecent exposure and negligent homicide.
If you are arrested on accusations of a felony or misdemeanor, always obtain prompt legal counsel. Felonies and some types of misdemeanors stay on your permanent record and can haunt you even after your sentence is over. Your main goal should be to prevent an inaccurate conviction and to minimize the sentence for any conviction you may obtain. Strong legal counsel can help you obtain the best possible scenario.