Criminal Law A to Z
Although some criminal defendants think that they can beat the system on their own, having an experienced criminal-defense attorney on your side gives you a better chance of preserving your legal rights.
Classifications of Crimes
Because the negative behavior regulated by the criminal laws varies from minor crimes to violent crimes or major crimes, the legislature has classified offenses into levels or degrees. The classification of a crime reflects its seriousness or may be effected by the whim of the legislature. (Such as the sudden upgrade of punishment for computer sex crimes or the higher classification for crack versus powder cocaine.)
Under federal criminal law and the Florida law, a felony is a crime that is punishable by imprisonment of more than one year. In general, the legislature in Florida has classified crimes involving weapons, sex crimes (rape, child pornography), burglary, thefts, drugs other than marijuana as felonies. Additionally, most other crimes can be enhanced into felonies if they are repeat offenses. For federal felonies, defendants have the right to be charged only by a grand jury. In Florida, defendants can be charged by grand jury, but are most commonly charged by Information. (A formal filing by the State Attorney.)
Florida breaks down felonies in categories:
3rd degree felony is punishable by up to 5 years in prison 2nd degree felony is punishable by up to 15 years in prison 1st degree felony is punishable by up to 30 years in prison Life felony can be punished by life imprisonment Capital felony can be punished by death.
Because of the seriousness of the consequences of a conviction, constitutional safeguards for the defendant's rights are built into the prosecution and court procedures.
Indigent defendants who cannot afford to hire lawyers and are facing felony charges have the right to free state-appointed criminal defense attorneys (Public Defender).
Felony convictions carry harsh direct and collateral consequences. In addition to social stigma, a convicted felon will lose the right to vote; become ineligible for elected office or professional licenses (in some cases drivers license); restrictions on the right to possess weapons or ammunition; ineligibility for housing, public benefits, educational benefits or certain jobs; immigration problems; loss of the right to serve as a juror; negative impact on parental rights or divorce proceedings; or the requirement to register with certain criminal registries.
Persons accused of felonies have the right to jury trials.
A limited number of crimes, such as murder, can be punished by the death penalty. These crimes are often referred to as capital offenses.
Under federal criminal law and the criminal laws in Florida, a misdemeanor is a crime for which the maximum possible punishment is incarceration for one year or less. Florida breaks down misdemeanors into 2 categories:
2nd degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail 1st degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail.
(There are other hybrid misdemeanors that are punishable by varying times under 1 year in jail such as DUI.)
Generally, misdemeanors are crimes that are less violent or involve lower levels of harm than felonies do. The legal procedures for misdemeanors are usually simpler than for felonies, the penalties less severe and the long-term consequences less harsh, however, your rights to due process are preserved.
Penalties typically include fines, property forfeitures or incarceration in a jail for one year or less.
There is no federal or state right to a grand jury for a misdemeanor.
Court procedures are slightly more relaxed than those for felonies.
Long-term consequences are normally less severe than those of felonies, although some of the felony consequences listed above may still apply to misdemeanors, including the lose of a drivers license.
The least severe infractions are minor traffic offenses and the like.
Often the only penalty is a fine, however, under certain circumstances you may lose your drivers license.
To understand the details of a criminal charge, talk to an attorney who can explain the potential punishment and ramifications.
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