Being charged with a crime in Texas is a serious matter, and you may be so overwhelmed that you haven’t been able to process the specifics of whether it’s a misdemeanor or a felony. However, these distinctions matter. The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is significant, especially as it pertains to the length of a potential sentence, where that sentence is served, civil rights impact upon release, and how you can go about clearing your record if convicted.
Different Crimes, Different Categories
Misdemeanors are generally crimes of moderate severity, such as car burglary, carrying a weapon without a permit, trespassing and harassment. Texas law breaks these down further into classes -- A, B and C -- with Class A misdemeanors being the most serious.
Felonies are the most serious crime you can be charged with. Major drug charges can fall into this category, as well as severe white-collar crime, bringing undocumented persons into the country, and crimes involving significant injury to someone else. Most federal crimes are felonies.
Courts have significant leeway to determine whether a particular offense is a misdemeanor or a felony, given its severity relative to other cases.
Length Of Sentence
The major difference between misdemeanors and felonies is the length of sentence. Misdemeanors carry a sentence of one year or less -- and sometimes no time at all -- and can also include community service, probation and restitution.
Felonies have sentences of one year or more, extending all the way to life without parole.
Sentences often include fines as well. Misdemeanor fines are capped at $4,000, while felonies can carry fines of up to $10,000.
Where The Sentence Is Served
People convicted of different crimes also serve their sentences in different facilities. Misdemeanor sentences take place in county jails, while felonies are typically reserved for federal prisons.
Civil Rights Impact
After serving your sentence, there are lasting impacts on your life beyond incarceration. If you have a misdemeanor conviction, you can have difficulty getting a job, have your driver’s license suspended, become ineligible for public housing and lose your right to legally own a firearm.
Felony convictions carry even weightier restrictions. If you have a felony on your record, you can no longer vote, run for public office, be on a jury or own a firearm. Certain felonies will make you ineligible for student loans and financial aid for schooling as well.
Clearing A Criminal Record
People who have served their sentences are often eager to reintegrate into society to the greatest extent possible, but having a criminal record can make that difficult. After time has passed, it’s sometimes possible to expunge misdemeanors from your record or to have them sealed, which makes employment much easier. On the other hand, you can almost never expunge felony convictions from your record.
Navigating the world of criminal defense can be extremely difficult. If you have any questions about the information presented above, your best bet will be to consult an experienced attorney, who can assess your particular situation.