a police car in Bradenton & sarasota illustrating misdemeanor and felony crimes
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn
By Brice Van Elswyk
Founding Attorney

In Florida, criminal charges are broadly classified into two categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Each category is defined by the gravity of the offense and the severity of the punishment imposed. Grasping this classification is essential, as it influences everything from legal proceedings to the potential impact on one’s life. It sets the stage for the legal journey ahead, whether you’re directly involved in the criminal charge or supporting someone who is.

What Is a Misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor in Florida is a criminal offense considered less severe than a felony, but still a serious matter. These offenses typically involve less serious harm or threat to public safety. Legal consequences for misdemeanors can vary, ranging from fines to jail time, usually not exceeding one year. Additionally, a misdemeanor conviction can impact one’s criminal record, affecting future employment and other opportunities. While these charges are less severe than felonies, the repercussions can still be significant, underscoring the need for a well-planned defense strategy to minimize potential penalties and long-term consequences.

Examples of Common Misdemeanors in Florida

  • Petty Theft: Theft of property or services valued under a certain threshold, typically involving minor shoplifting or similar offenses.
  • Simple Assault: Threatening someone with physical harm without actual contact; often involves verbal threats or minor physical altercations.
  • Disorderly Conduct: Engaging in behavior that disturbs the peace or public order, such as fighting, public intoxication, or excessively loud behavior in public spaces.
  • Trespassing: Illegally entering or remaining on someone else’s property without permission.
  • First-Time DUI (Driving Under Influence): Operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs for the first time, with no serious injury or property damage involved.
  • Domestic Battery: Physically harming or causing bodily injury to a family or household member, such as a spouse, partner, child, or other cohabitant, without their consent.

What Is a Felony?

A felony in Florida represents a more serious criminal offense, carrying graver consequences than misdemeanors. These offenses are deemed to cause greater harm or threat to public safety or property. Convictions for felonies often result in more severe punishments, including longer prison sentences, hefty fines, and in some cases, life imprisonment or capital punishment. Beyond the immediate legal repercussions, a felony conviction carries long-lasting impacts, such as loss of voting rights, difficulty in finding employment, and significant social stigma. The gravity of these charges necessitates a robust and strategic defense, as the stakes are considerably higher both in the short and long term.

Examples of Common Felonies in Florida

  • Murder: Unlawful killing of another person, ranging from manslaughter to premeditated murder.
  • Rape and Sexual Assault: Non-consensual sexual activities, often involving force or taking advantage of someone unable to give consent.
  • Burglary: Unlawfully entering a building with the intent to commit a crime inside, especially theft.
  • Grand Theft: Stealing property or services valued above a certain threshold, significantly higher than that for petty theft.
  • Aggravated Assault: An attack on someone with the intent to cause severe bodily harm, often involving a weapon.
  • Possession of Controlled Substances: Unlawful possession of illegal drugs or prescription medications without a valid prescription, such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, or certain prescription opioids.

Key Differences Between Misdemeanor and Felony Charges

  • Severity of Punishment: Misdemeanors generally result in lighter penalties In contrast, felonies carry harsher consequences.
  • Long-Term Impact: A misdemeanor conviction can affect employment prospects and create legal records, but typically less so than felonies. Felonies often lead to significant lifelong consequences.
  • Legal Process and Rights: Felony charges often involve more complex legal procedures, including preliminary hearings and grand jury indictments. Defendants in felony cases might have additional rights, such as the right to a public defender if they cannot afford one, which is not always guaranteed in misdemeanor cases.
  • Bail and Pretrial Release Conditions: Bail amounts and conditions for release before trial tend to be more stringent for felonies due to their serious nature. Misdemeanor charges often have lower bail amounts and less strict pretrial conditions.

Get Help From an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

At Van Elswyk Law, we offer experienced and dedicated legal representation for both misdemeanor and felony charges. Our team is committed to understanding your unique situation and crafting a defense strategy tailored to your needs. We encourage you to reach out to us for guidance and support as you navigate the complexities of the legal system.

About the Author
Brice Van Elswyk started his professional career as an investment banker in 1998. Over the next 14 years, Brice worked for several international investment banks, eventually specializing in structured products with complex tax, accounting, and regulatory capital constraints.While at the State Attorney’s Office, Brice prosecuted crimes ranging from misdemeanors such as DUI’s and domestic batteries, all the way to homicide, drug trafficking and sex crimes. Most recently, Brice was a specialty prosecutor focusing on capital sex crimes and crimes against children. Now, Brice combines his vast knowledge of finance, and his extensive experience as a trial attorney to serve clients in both criminal defense and civil matters.