When you’re facing criminal charges (or your loved one is), one of the best things you can do is educate yourself about the judicial process — including the meaning of your charges.
If you’re charged with a misdemeanor, you’re facing less serious penalties than those associated with a felony. Typically, a conviction for a misdemeanor carries limited jail time (less than a year) and any sentence would be served in a county jail — not the state prison. A felony can land you in prison for more than a year, and it’s often what people refer to as “hard” time because sentences are usually served in an actual prison.
Felonies and misdemeanors are then broken down into categories according to the severity of the alleged crime. In Illinois, a Class A misdemeanor is the most serious (and the most common charge for many offenses). Conviction can bring a minimum fine of $75 and a maximum of $2,500 for each offense. You can also be forced to pay restitution to any victims. If you aren’t sentenced to jail time, you may still be placed on home detention or be required to meet some other criteria for the court.
By comparison, felonies can carry a virtually unlimited sentence, depending on how serious your supposed offense. For example, first degree murder charges can result in a term of natural life in prison.
It’s important to remember that your charges may change over time — well after your initial arrest. Sometimes a prosecutor “upcharges” a defendant in order to give themselves room to negotiate a plea. In cases like that, you may find your felony charge shifts to a misdemeanor if you agree to a deal. In others, a prosecutor will add new charges as they develop more evidence for their case — which means your misdemeanor charges may suddenly be eclipsed by a felony.
Whatever charges you’re facing, you need to get an early start on your defense. Talk to an experienced defense attorney today.