27 Nov 23

Long Island Criminal Defense: The Key Differences Between Misdemeanors and Felonies

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Last Updated on: 5th December 2023, 08:34 pm


Long Island Criminal Defense: The Key Differences Between Misdemeanors and Felonies

Being charged with a crime in New York can be an overwhelming experience. Many defendants do not fully understand the implications of the charges against them or how to build an effective defense. One of the most fundamental distinctions in criminal law is the classification of offenses as misdemeanors or felonies. Understanding the key differences between the two is crucial for anyone facing criminal prosecution in New York.

Misdemeanors vs Felonies: An Overview

Misdemeanors are generally less severe crimes that are punishable by up to 1 year in jail. Felonies are more serious criminal offenses that carry potential prison sentences of more than 1 year. The classification determines more than just the possible punishment – it also impacts the procedures and rules that apply in a criminal case.

Some key differences include:

  • Right to a Jury Trial – Those charged with misdemeanors do not have a constitutional right to a jury trial, while felony defendants do.
  • Eligibility for Diversion Programs – Many diversion programs that allow charges to be dismissed after completion of certain conditions are only open to misdemeanor offenders.
  • Impact on Record – While both can result in a permanent criminal record, felony convictions generally carry greater stigma and long-term consequences.
  • Eligibility for Public Defender – Income eligibility limits for free legal defense representation are higher for felony charges.

The specific implications vary by offense, so consulting an experienced Long Island criminal defense lawyer is essential. But generally, felony charges are more complex cases with higher stakes.

Common Types of Misdemeanors

Some of the most common misdemeanor offenses charged in New York include:

  • Petit Larceny – Theft of property valued under $1,000. Punishable by up to 1 year in jail.
  • Possession of Marijuana – Possessing less than 25 grams of marijuana. Up to 3 months in jail.
  • DWI – 1st offense driving while intoxicated. Up to 1 year in jail.
  • Assault 3rd Degree – Causing physical injury to another person. Up to 1 year in jail.
  • Criminal Mischief 4th Degree – Damaging another’s property. Up to 1 year in jail.

The potential penalties vary based on the specific circumstances of the case. Many first-time misdemeanor offenders are eligible for non-jail resolutions like probation or community service. But the consequences can be severe if convicted of multiple misdemeanors within a short period.

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Common Types of Felonies

Felony offenses encompass more serious crimes like:

  • Burglary – Illegally entering a building to commit a crime inside. Punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
  • Grand Larceny – Theft of property valued over $1,000. Up to 25 years in prison.
  • Robbery – Using force or threat of force to steal property. Up to 25 years in prison.
  • Assault 2nd Degree – Causing serious physical injury to another person. Up to 7 years in prison.
  • Criminal Possession of a Weapon – Illegally possessing a firearm or other weapon. Up to 15 years in prison.

The potential prison sentences for felonies are measured in years rather than months or days. The punishments typically depend on the seriousness of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history.

Strategic Differences in Misdemeanor vs Felony Defense

The strategies used for mounting an effective legal defense in misdemeanor and felony cases can vary significantly:


  • Diversion programs are a common resolution, allowing charges to be dismissed after completing classes, community service, or probation.
  • The lower stakes mean fighting the charges at trial may be a viable option.
  • The lack of jury means the judge’s perception is key – their background and tendencies must be considered.


  • Felonies have fewer diversion options, so plea negotiations are often the best route to minimize penalties.
  • Mounting a trial defense requires extensive preparation and resources due to jury selection, expert witnesses, etc.
  • Sentencing advocacy is crucial, requiring a meticulous review of benchmarks and mitigating factors.
  • Appellate issues may arise given the higher likelihood of long prison terms.

While misdemeanors cannot be taken lightly, the reality is that the strategy and defense in a felony case often involves much higher stakes. Engaging an attorney with specific felony experience is critical.