The criminal justice system is a confusing maze of laws and procedures. If you’ve been charged with a crime, you will undoubtedly encounter a lot of legal jargon that is difficult to understand. You need to clearly know what you are charged with in order to effectively defend yourself. One important piece of the puzzle is understanding the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor, and why it matters which kind of crime you are charged with.
Having an experienced Indianapolis criminal defense attorney by your side who will explain the system and the process every step of the way is crucial for you to make informed decisions regarding your case.
What is a Misdemeanor?
The Indiana Code classifies crimes into different categories based on the seriousness of the offense. Generally, less serious crimes are called misdemeanors. These crimes are further classified into three classes:
- Class A misdemeanors are the most serious kinds of misdemeanors and may result in up to one year of incarceration and a fine not exceeding $5,000. Examples of these crimes include domestic battery, battery that results in bodily injury, welfare and insurance fraud, resisting law enforcement, intimidation, and public indecency.
- Class B misdemeanors carry penalties of up to 180 days of incarceration and a fine not exceeding $1,000. Common Class B misdemeanors include simple disorderly conduct, harassment, and unlawful gambling.
- Class C misdemeanors are the least serious of the types of misdemeanors and may result in up to 60 days’ incarceration and up to a $500 fine. Examples include failure to respond to a court-issued summons, panhandling, possession of drug paraphernalia, and operating a motorboat while intoxicated.
What is A Felony?
Indiana classifies more serious criminal offenses as felonies. These are often violent crimes that inflict physical harm or serious financial harm on victims. The range of penalties for felonies is usually far more severe than misdemeanors, entailing multiple years of imprisonment and hefty fines. Indiana classifies felonies into seven categories:
- Murder occupies its own classification as it is the most serious possible crime under Indiana law. The sentence for murder is a fixed term of imprisonment that lasts between 45 and 65 years and a fine not exceeding $10,000. Certain instances of murder may also result in life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Finally, the most serious cases of murder are considered capital offenses that are punishable by death.
- Level 1 felonies are crimes that are punishable by imprisonment lasting between 20 and 40 years and a fine not exceeding $10,000. Attempted murder, rape or sexual assault with the use of deadly force or a deadly weapon, or rape that results in serious bodily injury, or burglary of a residence that results in serious bodily injury.
- Level 2 felonies are offenses that are punishable by between 10 and 30 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. Common examples of level 2 felonies include voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping with the intent to obtain a ransom, sexual trafficking of a minor, or robbery that results in serious bodily injury.
- Level 3 felonies are crimes that are punishable by a prison term lasting between three and 16 years and a fine not exceeding $10,000. Aggravated battery, arson resulting in serious injuries, or burglary of a non-residential building that results in serious bodily injury.
- Level 4 felonies are those crimes that may be punishable by a prison term of between two and 12 years and a fine of up to $10,000. Examples of level 4 felonies include interference with child custody using a deadly weapon, promotion of human trafficking, sexual misconduct with a minor if committed by someone who is at least 21 years old, and simple arson.
- Level 5 felonies may be punishable by at least one year of imprisonment but no more than six years and a fine not exceeding $10,000. Reckless homicide, involuntary manslaughter, and child exploitation are examples of level 5 felonies.
- Level 6 felonies are the least severe of these kinds of crimes and may come with an incarceration term of between six and 30 months, along with a fine of up to $10,000. These crimes include possession of child pornography, sexual battery, residential entry, and auto theft.
How an Indianapolis Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
Regardless of whether the offense you are charged with is a misdemeanor or a felony, you need an attorney who will ensure that your rights are protected. Any criminal conviction will result in a sentence that will greatly impact your life. Additionally, the long-term consequences of having a criminal record may haunt you for the rest of your life in terms of future employment, housing, and community relationships. Having an experienced attorney by your side greatly increases your chances for a positive outcome to your case.
Every case is unique with its own set of challenges, so if you want to speak with a compassionate and highly skilled criminal defense attorney, call Hessler Law, PC at (317) 886-8800 for a free and confidential case evaluation.