Felony vs. Misdemeanor
Most of our criminal defense clients are regular "Joe" and "Jane" types of people. They are the type who have jobs, families, responsibilities, and usually a good moral compass. They don't have any idea how the criminal justice system works, but they suddenly find themselves in it. They need a criminal defense lawyer to minimize the damage they face, and need to know what penalties might be looking at. They usually know that a felony is a bad thing, but they often don't know much more than that. I usually take the time to explain to them what the difference is between the various levels of crimes in Washington.
Traffic Infractions/Tickets: Although I list them, they are not actually a crime. They are civil offenses in which the maximum penalty is only a fine. The difference between a civil and criminal offense is that no one can be put in jail for a civil offense, they can just be fined money. A criminal offense is one where a person can be both incarcerated and fined, if found guilty. There is a higher burden of proof that the city or state must meet in a criminal offense, versus in a civil offense. See our page on traffic matters for more information on these. A number of traffic infractions over time can lead to other consequences, such as a drivers license suspension. Those that drive without a license often end up being charged for a crime.
Misdemeanors: This crime is the least serious of criminal offense. Examples are littering, and driving without a valid drivers license. The maximum sentence that one can expect to receive from a judge if convicted of a misdemeanor is 90 days in county or city jail, and/or a $1000 fine. The judge usually will not give a first time offender anything close to the maximum sentence, and often won't order any jail at all on a first offense. If someone is convicted, they are likely to be fined, and may face probation of up to two years.
Gross Misdemeanors: This crime is a more serious misdemeanor. Examples of this crime are DUI, Reckless Driving, and Assault in the Fourth Degree. This is the most common type of charge we see on a first offense arrest. Someone who is convicted of this charge faces a maximum penalty of 364 days in county or city jail, as well as up to $5000 in fines. There may be a mandatory minimum sentence on a charge like this, depending on the offense and criminal history. When there is a mandatory minimum sentence, it means that the judge cannot give less than the mandatory minimum if someone in convicted. Examples are multiple offense DUI convictions, or some domestic violence offenses. Probation can also be up to five years on this type of offense.
Class C Felonies: This is the least serious felony conviction. Someone who is convicted of this faces confinement in a state correctional institution for up to five years, or a fine of up to ten thousand dollars, or both. Most felony offenses fall into this category, some examples are more minor assaults and drug offenses, even some sex offenses.
Class B Felonies: Someone who is convicted of this faces confinement in a state correctional institution for up to ten years, or a fine of up to twenty thousand dollars, or both.
Class A Felonies: This is the most serious felony conviction. Someone who is convicted of this faces confinement in a state correctional institution for up to a lifetime, or a fine of up to fifty thousand dollars, or both.
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We are happy to meet with you and tell you what you facing in your criminal case. Call us at (253) 867-2675 to schedule a free initial consultation.