Pennsylvania categorizes criminal legal matters into two distinct types: misdemeanor and felony charges.
These classifications are important in the criminal justice system, as they significantly impact the severity of penalties and consequences for individuals involved in legal proceedings.
1. Nature of the offense
The primary differentiator between misdemeanor and felony charges is the nature of the offense committed. Misdemeanors typically involve less serious crimes, such as minor theft, simple assault or possession of a small quantity of controlled substances. In contrast, felony charges are for more severe crimes, such as murder, armed robbery or large-scale drug trafficking.
2. Penalties and sentencing
One of the most significant distinctions between the two categories lies in the potential penalties and sentencing. Misdemeanor convictions typically result in less severe consequences. Offenders may face fines, probation or short-term imprisonment in county jails. Felony charges, on the other hand, can lead to substantially longer prison sentences in state correctional facilities, and fines that are significantly higher.
3. Collateral consequences
Misdemeanor convictions can still have a lasting impact on an individual’s life. While they may not carry the same severe penalties as felonies, they can result in collateral consequences. These may include difficulties in obtaining employment, housing or educational opportunities, and the loss of certain civil rights, such as the right to possess firearms.
4. Criminal record
Both misdemeanor and felony convictions result in a criminal record. However, the impact of these records on an individual’s life can differ significantly. Felony convictions often have a more profound effect on a person’s ability to find employment, housing and reintegrate into society after serving their sentence. Potential employers or landlords may view misdemeanor convictions with less skepticism.
In 2021, the state had 131,869 new criminal filings. While every arrest is different, the right defense may help promote a better outcome.