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Posted on: August 24, 2020

Felony vs. Misdemeanor What’s the Difference

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Understanding the criminal justice system can be difficult. From complicated language to confusing processes and various key players, it’s not something that is easily understood or used daily. While many don’t plan to be involved with the criminal justice system, it’s necessary to be prepared and take time to know how it works.

Every state experiences similar crime trends; however, crime classification varies from state to state and is determined by that state’s legislature. The County Attorney’s Office reviews and prosecutes all felonies for Maricopa County and all misdemeanors that occur in unincorporated areas. While these are just two classifications, they encompass very different types of crimes. So, what are the differences?

In Arizona, felonies are classified into six categories and misdemeanors into three. Each category outlines the minimum and maximum sentencing (or punishment) for a particular crime, with the Class 1 category being the most severe. Compared to a felony, a misdemeanor can carry less jail time and smaller fines but can still leave a permanent mark on your criminal record and should not be taken lightly. Common class 1 misdemeanors include DUI, possession of drug paraphernalia, assault with injury, shoplifting, among others. Certain misdemeanor crimes such as DUI carry mandatory sentencing. A misdemeanor can also rise to a felony classification given the circumstances of the crime and previous criminal record.

Crimes that are classified as felonies are much more severe, including violent crimes as well as white-collar crimes, and carry the potential for longer sentences from time in prison to life in prison. First and second degree murder are the only class 1 felonies in Arizona. These felonies have a maximum sentencing of life in prison or the death penalty. Classifications 2 to 6 hold 120 different types of felonies. These include but not limited to theft, aggravated assault, sex crimes, drug charges, and crimes against children. Sentencing for these vary from time in prison, fines, and probation, depending on the nature of the crime and it’s severity.

While this is just a small part of the criminal justice system, it’s essential to understand the difference in crime classifications and what that means for penalties and sentencing. To learn more about felonies and misdemeanors visit:

For more information on the criminal justice process visit, MaricopaCountyAttorney.org/AdultCriminalTrialProcess

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