In the United States, a two-tier system is used to classify crimes. Less serious crimes are classified as misdemeanors and more serious crimes are classified as felonies. The differences between are considerable.
- Type of Incarceration: When a person is incarcerated for committing a misdemeanor, their incarceration will take place in either a local or county jail. A sentence of incarceration for a felony crime, however, will typically involve a state prison.
- The Severity of Penalties: Typically, penalties for misdemeanor convictions involve incarceration of 1 year or less. In comparison, felony penalties are usually significantly more, and incarceration for a felony crime can result in a sentence of up to life in prison and in some states, in particularly heinous cases the defendant can even receive a sentence of death.
- Post-Conviction Ramifications: The ramifications of a felony conviction are wide reaching. After serving a felony sentence, there are certain professional licenses that the former convict will be banned from obtaining during their lifetime. They may also have a difficult time finding rental housing and employment. Additionally, depending on the crime, they may receive a lifetime ban from serving on a jury and may lose the right to vote in elections.
Beyond the initial two tiers, most states also break each of those two tiers down into several subcategories, while other states assign penalties on a case by cases basis. Additionally, a few states use a hybrid approach to determine criminal penalties.
In states where subcategories are used, each subcategory is based on the seriousness of the crime. Each subcategory will then have it’s own range of sentences that can be used for crimes that fall within that subcategory. For example, if a tier is broken down into subcategories A, B, C & D then every crime defining statute for that particular state will identify the crime by it’s subcategory. Once it is known what subcategory a crime falls into, the range of possible sentences can be known, simply by references the particular law or statute that sets the sentence for that particular subcategory.
How states break down and classify the subcategories is not regulated on a federal level and varies dramatically from state to state. Some states identify the subcategories with letters, such as A., B., C., etc; while others states use a numbering system instead. Additionally, there are some states that describe the subcategories as “classes” and other states use the word “levels” instead. Some states have chosen not to use common words like class and level at all, and instead make use of descriptive phrases to identify the different subcategories.
In states where subcategories are not used, the state has assigned a particular sentence range to every different crime. And in the state that uses a hybrid approach, subcategories are used for some types of offenses while other types of offenses are unclassified and the statute defining the crime will assign the legally accepted sentence range.
In the state of Florida, felony crimes fall into one of the five following classes:
- First degree felony
- Second degree felony
- Third degree felony
- Capital felony
- Life felony
According to Florida statutes, Life felonies and Capital felonies are the most serious and as such, carry the heaviest penalties. For example, First degree murder is a capital felony and in Florida, capital felonies are eligible for the death penalty. Life felonies carry the the penalty of a life sentence, as well as, fines of up to $15,000. Florida Statute 775.082 and Florida Statute 775.083 provide the legal description and potential sentences for Capital and Life felonies.
According to Florida Statute 775.082, first degree felonies are punishable by a maximum of 30 years in prison, as well as, fines of up to $10,000. An example of a first degree felony would be Aggravated battery to a law enforcement officer when the crime took place while the officer was on duty or engaging in official duties.
Second degree felony convictions in Florida carry a maximum of up to 15 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. A good example of a second degree felony would be Selling marijuana to a minor.
The least serious type of felonies in Florida are Felonies of the third degree. Crimes in this subcategory qualify for sentences of up to five years in prison and fines of up to $5,000. Auto theft is an example of a third degree felony.
While sentencing ranges are clearly spelled out within Florida state law, there are also a couple of potential exceptions. One such exception is the Three Strikes law. During felony sentencing, Florida judges will take into account whether or not the convicted has received two or more prior felonies. If a defendant is convicted of a third felony that are considered to be habitual offenders, and as such, the judge is able to deliver a sentence that is more severe the penalty stated in the Florida Statutes. The purpose of this is to protect the general public by keeping repeat felony offenders off of the street and behind bars for an extended sentence.
In Florida, the statute of limitations, varies depending on the severity of the crime. For second and third degree felonies, the state has up to 3 years, from when the crime was committed, to begin criminal prosecution. In the case of first degree felonies, the statute of limitations is extended to 4 years. If the state is unable to bring a case against a criminal within the allotted timeframe, they lose the right to ever prosecute that particular crime. However, Florida does have special provisions that can be utilized to grant the state attorney’s office additional time, depending on the circumstances of the case. An example of this would be crimes against minors, that are sexual in nature. For this particular type of case, the clock on the statute of limitations does not beginning ticking until the victim turns 18 or until the time that the crime is reported. This specific provision takes into account that if a person were sexually molested at a young age but did not report it until they were an adult, state law enforcement had no knowledge of the crime at the time that it happened, therefore it is through no fault of their own that criminal proceedings were not begun prior to the statute of limitations running out. In the state of Florida, there is no statute of limitations for capital felonies, life felonies or any felonies that resulted in death.
If a person is facing felony criminal charges, it is highly recommended that they obtain the services of an experienced, local criminal defense attorney.