Misdemeanors vs. Felonies in New York

Like most states, New York divides criminal offenses into two different categories: misdemeanors and felonies. While most people understand that felonies are more serious than misdemeanors, their understanding of their differences usually ends there. Depending on whether a person has been charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, their potential penalties could vary between a few months to several years in prison.

In New York, offenses which are punishable by a minimum of 15 days in jail and a maximum of one year in jail and $1,000 in fines are classified as misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are further divided into three subclasses: Class A, Class B, and unclassified misdemeanors. Class A misdemeanors are more serious than Class B misdemeanors, with unclassified misdemeanors including offenses that are both more and less serious. Unclassified misdemeanors are punished with fines or jail time as required by the offense’s specific law or ordinance.

Examples of misdemeanors in each category are as follows:

  • Class A misdemeanors: Third-degree identity theft, carrying a gun without a permit, petit larceny, and second-degree criminal impersonation.
  • Class B misdemeanors: Prostitution, unlawful assembly, fortune-telling, and issuing a bad check.
  • Unclassified misdemeanors: first-time driving while intoxicated (DWI), aggravated unlicensed driving, and reckless driving.

Felonies, on the other hand, are far more serious and carry criminal sentences in excess of 1 year in state prison. Like misdemeanors, felonies are broken up into subclasses of Class A through E, with Class A felonies potentially resulting in life imprisonment. Class A felonies are further divided into Class A-I and Class A-II. Convicted felons lose the right to vote, are likely to lose certain professional licenses issued by the State, and are unable to seek professional licenses. While any criminal conviction can permanently taint a person’s reputation and career, felony convictions are particularly damaging in this regard.

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