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The difference between violations, misdemeanors and felonies

Figuring out the New York criminal system can be pretty difficult if you aren't familiar with the terminology being used -- and being in a courtroom where everyone is throwing around words that are meaningless to you can be confusing and intimidating.

One of the first things that anyone who is charged with any sort of offense should understand is the difference between a violation, a misdemeanor, and a felony.

What's a violation?

A violation is an offense, other than a traffic infraction, where the maximum possible punishment is fifteen days in jail.

It's important to note that a violation is not a crime, even though you can be taken into custody and held. That means you won't have a criminal record if you're only charged with a violation.

An example of a violation would be something like "disorderly conduct." Officers might take you into custody just until you calm down and then release you when you no longer appear to be likely to cause further trouble. You'll probably be given an appearance ticket for court to deal with any fines or further issues.

What's a misdemeanor?

Misdemeanors are generally low-level, petty offenses that don't have a possible sentence of greater than one year in jail. Misdemeanors can be unclassified or divided into Class A and Class B.

Class A is reserved for more serious offenses and can result in up to one year in jail or 3 years of probation. You can also be fined up to $1000.

If you're charged with a Class B misdemeanor, you face up to three months in jail or one year of probation and a $500 fine.

If possible, your defense attorney may try to get your Class A misdemeanor reduced to a Class B misdemeanor in order to lessen the possible consequences.

What's a felony?

Felony charges are reserved for the most serious crimes, like assault, and the possible sentence starts at more than a year in prison and can go to life depending on the type of crime you committed.

Felonies are divided into classes (A-I, A-II, B, C, D, and E) from most serious to least serious. Your attorney's goal may be to get a serious felony charge reduced to a lower degree or a misdemeanor, so that you face minimal consequences if convicted.

For more information on criminal defense, talk to an attorney today.

Source: New York State Office of Mental Health, "Chapter 1 Criminal Justice System for Adults in NYS," accessed March 17, 2017

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