What Is the Difference Between a Felony and Misdemeanor Traffic Offense?
In Texas, as in all other states, the criminal laws make a distinction between traffic offenses that are considered misdemeanors and those that rise to the level of a felony. Many states also have lesser offense, labeled as an “infraction” or “petty offense.” There can be a significant difference in the way a case is prosecuted, in your options, and in the potential penalties for conviction. Let’s take a look at what distinguishes a misdemeanor from a felony, and then identify how that applies to traffic citations or violations.
What is a Misdemeanor Offense?
As a rule, a misdemeanor is typically considered to be a less serious offense. There are certain types of crimes that are only prosecuted as misdemeanors, but there are also crimes that may be categorized as either, based on the specific facts of the offense. For example, some drug crimes may be charged as misdemeanors, including most types of possession, but others may be prosecuted as felonies, including trafficking or possession with intent to sell.
As a general rule, a misdemeanor results in a shorter period of incarceration, typically less than a year. In addition, a sentence for a misdemeanor it customarily served in a city or county jail, rather than a prison. You can be charged with multiple misdemeanors in the same legal proceeding and may be sentenced to serve time concurrently (at the same time) or consecutively (one sentence after the other).
You have the same constitutional rights with a misdemeanor that you have when charged with a felony. You have the right to representation by legal counsel—an option you should always take. Jury trials may or may not be available, depending on the jurisdiction and the offense. Typically, the jury for a misdemeanor is smaller than for a felony.
What is a Felony Offense?
Felonies are considered much more serious. As a result, the penalties are more severe and certain basic rights, such as the right to vote or own/possess firearms, may be lost upon conviction. Many violent crimes are prosecuted only as felonies, including most forms of homicide and many sex crimes. Other offenses, such as theft, may be charged as petty theft (a misdemeanor) or grand theft (a felony), based on the value of the goods stolen.
As a general rule, conviction for a felony will result in incarceration in a state or federal prison for a minimum of one year. Felony convictions can also lead to substantial fines, payable to the state.
In most instances, a traffic violation will be charged either as an infraction/petty offense or as a misdemeanor. In fact, most traffic citations don’t even rise to the level of a misdemeanor, unless there was damage to property, someone suffered a personal injury, or there was a legitimate threat of personal injury/property damage. A traffic offense will seldom constitute a felony, unless the defendant is a repeat offender or there’s death, great bodily injury or substantial property damage.
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