Crimes in Florida are either misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanor charges can be quite serious, but felonies are considered more serious than misdemeanors. If you’re charged with a felony or a misdemeanor, contact a good Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney at once.

Why are some crimes considered felonies and others considered misdemeanors? What kinds of penalties do Florida courts impose on offenders who are convicted of felonies and misdemeanors? What are your rights if you are charged with either type of crime?

If you’ll continue reading, you will learn the answers to these questions, and you will also learn what steps to take if you are arrested for any type of crime in the Tampa Bay area.

How Do Felonies and Misdemeanors Differ?

Generally speaking, misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies, and the penalties for misdemeanor convictions are less harsh:

  1. Fines for misdemeanor convictions are usually less costly than fines for felony convictions.
  2. One year, the maximum jail term for a misdemeanor conviction, is the minimum prison term for a felony conviction.

Misdemeanors include but are not limited to petty theft, vandalism, shoplifting, giving alcohol to a minor, disorderly conduct, driving under the influence (DUI), driving with a suspended license, and the possession of marijuana under twenty grams.

How Are Misdemeanors Classified?

Misdemeanors are subcategorized into first-degree and second-degree misdemeanors.

  1. First-degree misdemeanors are punishable upon conviction with up to one year in jail, and/or twelve months of probation and a fine of $1,000.
  2. Second-degree misdemeanors are punishable upon conviction with up to sixty days in jail and/or a six-month probation term and a $500 fine.

The state must begin a misdemeanor prosecution within a period of time called the statute of limitations. That period of time begins when a crime is committed. First-degree misdemeanors have a two-year statute of limitations, and second-degree misdemeanors have a one-year period.

What Crimes Are Felonies? How Are Felonies Classified?

Felonies in this state include but are not limited to battery, assault, homicide, carjacking, robbery, kidnapping, stalking, sexual battery, and grand theft. The penalties for felony convictions depend on the details of the felony and the “degree” of the crime.

Florida law creates five felony categories – first-, second-, and third-degree felonies, life felonies, and capital felonies – and a separate felony classification for particular drug crimes:

  1. Third-degree felonies: A conviction for a third-degree felony may be penalized with up to five years in prison and a fine of $5,000. Some defendants may be ordered by the court to pay restitution to the victim.
  2. Second-degree felonies: A conviction for a second-degree felony may be penalized with up to fifteen years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Additionally, a defendant may be ordered by the court to pay restitution to the victim.
  3. First-degree felonies: A conviction for a first-degree felony is punishable upon conviction with up to thirty years in prison, a fine of $10,000, and an order to pay restitution.
  4. Life felonies: A life felony may be penalized upon conviction with forty years to life in prison, a fine of $15,000, and an order to pay restitution.
  5. Capital felonies: Capital felonies are punishable upon conviction with the death penalty or life in prison with no possibility of parole, and an order to pay restitution.
  6. Special drug felonies: A felony conviction for trafficking particular drugs can result in a mandatory prison sentence and a fine of $500,000.

Felonies typically have lengthier statutes of limitations than misdemeanors. There is no statute of limitations for capital felonies, life felonies, and felonies that result in a death. First-degree felonies usually have a four-year statute of limitations. Other felonies have a three-year period.

How Are Offenders With Previous Convictions Sentenced?

Individuals who have two or more previous violent felony convictions and receive a third violent felony conviction may be sentenced to a lengthier prison term under the “three strikes” sentencing rules in Florida.

If You Are Charged With a Crime, What Steps Should You Take?

Florida criminal laws are complicated, and they are constantly changing. If you are charged with a crime in this state, whether it is a felony or a misdemeanor, you need to seek legal counsel at once. If you are placed in custody and charged with a felony or a misdemeanor in Florida:

  1. Exercise your constitutional right to remain silent.
  2. Remember that anything you say can be used against you.
  3. Insist on your constitutional right to have your attorney present during any questioning.
  4. Follow your defense attorney’s recommendations and legal advice.

Do not try to act as your own defense lawyer. The criminal laws in Florida are too complicated, and too much – including your freedom and your future – will be at stake.

What Will a Good Defense Lawyer Do on Your Behalf?

Do not enter a plea, agree to a plea deal, or sign any legal document before you’ve consulted with the right defense attorney. That attorney will:

  1. Thoroughly scrutinize and review the prosecution’s evidence against you
  2. Move to have the charge or charges against you reduced or completely dismissed
  3. Question witnesses and gather evidence for your defense
  4. Bring the matter to its best possible outcome

A motion to suppress may be your lawyer’s first act in your defense. A motion to suppress asks a judge to stop particular evidence from being introduced at trial. If the motion is granted, the state in some cases will no longer have enough evidence to convict, and the charge may be dropped.

How Are Most Criminal Charges Resolved in Florida?

Most misdemeanor and felony cases in Florida are never heard by a jury. Criminal charges in Florida and every other state are usually resolved with a plea agreement. That can be good news if you’re guilty, the evidence against you is persuasive, and a conviction is certain.

However, if you’re charged with a crime and you are innocent, you should not plead guilty to anything. If you’re not guilty and the charge against you can’t be dropped or dismissed, you have the right to insist on a jury trial, and you’ll need an attorney who has substantial trial experience.

Florida’s criminal court system still delivers justice, but obtaining that justice is more likely to happen when you understand the laws and legal procedures and when you have a good Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney fighting aggressively on your behalf.