Can a Misdemeanor be Changed to a Felony?
In the United States, criminal offenses are separated into two categories: felonies and misdemeanors. Most people are aware that misdemeanors are far less severe, and come with lesser consequences, than felonies. However, not many people are aware of the fact that a misdemeanor can be changed to a felony and vice versa. Once you have been arrested, it is important to work with a professional criminal defense lawyer who can effectively handle your case and minimize the chances of your life being ruined because of a mistake you made.
When a Misdemeanor Charge Can be Raised to a Felony
Unfortunately, it is possible for your misdemeanor charges to be raised to a felony. Once you have been arrested and the prosecution starts preparing their case against you, additional, damning evidence may be brought to light. For instance, a charge of simple assault in Florida can quickly escalate into a charge of aggravated assault if the prosecution learns that you used a weapon against your victim. Additionally, a charge of manslaughter can become a murder charge if they learn that there was motivation and/or intent behind your actions.
As an example, according to Florida Statute §784.011, simple assault is a second degree misdemeanor, and punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. However, an aggravated assault charge is a third degree felony according to Florida Statute §784.021, and is punishable by up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Simple assault is defined as “an intentional threat by word, or act that seeks to physically harm another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.” Aggravated assault is “an assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill; or with an intent to commit a felony.” All it takes for the prosecution to raise the charges against you is finding out that you used any sort of weapon, instead of just your fist or words, when assaulting another individual.
Aggravating factors are what turn a crime from a misdemeanor crime into a felony crime, as described in the simple assault/aggravated assault example above. Some common aggravating factors that may raise the charges against you include:
- Acting in a heinous, cruel, or depraved manner; this includes torturing or abusing the victim;
- A criminal history, particularly one in which the prior offenses were felonies or that were similar to the one that you are most recently charged with;
- Committing a hate crime;
- Crimes in which the victim was vulnerable (meaning they were extremely young, elderly, had a mental and/or physical disability), or in which the perpetrator was in a position of authority (meaning they were a coach, priest, or teacher); or
- Committing the crime in the presence of a minor.
Reducing Criminal Penalties
Just as criminal penalties can be raised due to aggravating factors, they can also be reduced due to mitigating factors. Mitigating factors, as you probably have guessed, are the opposite of aggravating factors, and are used to reduce a defendant’s liability. Just like with aggravating factors, mitigating factors will be taken into consideration based on the nature and details of the underlying offense. For instance, a clean record is almost always used as a mitigating factor, and can prove to have a hugely positive impact on the outcome of just about any case. According to Florida Statute §921.0026, mitigating factors can include:
- The defendant was an accomplice to the crime and played a relatively minor role in the offense;
- The defendant was unable to grasp the severity or nature of his or her actions at the time the crime was committed;
- The defendant requires specialized treatment for a mental disorder or physical disability and is agreeable to treatment;
- The victim was an initiator, willing participant, aggressor, or provoker of the incident that lead to the crime;
- The defendant acted under extreme duress, or in self defense;
- The defendant cooperated with the state to resolve the current offense or any other offense;
- The offense was an isolated incident for which the defendant has shown great remorse;
- The defendant was too young to appreciate the nature of his or her actions at the time the crime was committed; or
- The offense is non-violent and the defendant qualifies for a drug treatment program.
Reach Out to a Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Florida, the best thing you can do is to retain the assistance of a knowledgeable and aggressive criminal defense lawyer. At The Baez Law Firm, our criminal lawyers understand how quickly a misdemeanor can turn into a felony, and what it takes to reduce a felony into a misdemeanor. To ensure the best possible outcome to your criminal case, call our lawyers right away at 800-588-BAEZ to schedule your free consultation.