Misdemeanor vs Felony Offense Levels

Every crime in Massachusetts and across the US is classified as an infraction, misdemeanor or felony. How a crime will be categorized in this state depends upon the penalties involved. In Massachusetts, the convicted person can be sentenced to state prison or the county house of correction. If the crime cannot be punished by a term in state prison, it is a misdemeanor. If there is a possibility of a state prison sentence, it is considered a felony.

Also, if the crime can result in a year or less in a county house of correction, it is a misdemeanor. If the crime can result in a year or more in prison, including life in prison, it is a felony.

Misdemeanors and felonies can be committed against people, the state or property. But the key difference is always the severity of the crime committed. For example, going 65 in a 45 would be considered a misdemeanor offense. But if you run a person over while speeding, that would be a felony.

Punishments for misdemeanors and felonies in Massachusetts are covered in Section 1 of Chapter 274 of the Massachusetts General Laws.

Massachusetts Misdemeanor

If you are arrested for committing a misdemeanor in this state, the first court date is known as a criminal arraignment. If the misdemeanor offense was not seen by a police officer, you may receive a criminal summons that orders you to appear at the clerk magistrate’s hearing. The purpose of this hearing is for the state to show cause that there is enough evidence to press a criminal complaint against you. If a police officer arrested you when he witnesses the alleged crime, that is sufficient cause to proceed with the criminal case.

The clerk magistrate’s hearing is the best place to win a misdemeanor case; if you win this hearing, the charges evaporate as if they never occurred.

Some of the most common Massachusetts misdemeanor crimes include:

  • Assault
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Domestic assault
  • Drug possession
  • DUI
  • Failure to appear in court
  • Hit and run
  • Indecent exposure
  • Shoplifting
  • Malicious damage
  • Minor in possession of alcohol
  • Resisting arrest
  • Trespassing
  • Threatening to commit a crime
  • Negligent operation of a motor vehicle

Massachusetts Felony

Felony charges in Massachusetts are serious. Not only do you face more than a year in prison. A felony conviction will stay on a criminal background check for 10 years. This will severely limit your opportunities to get a job. Sometimes the best outcome in court is to get the felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor. This usually results in less jail time and fines, as well as fewer negative long term consequences for employment and other important aspects of life.

Common felony offenses in Massachusetts include:

  • Assault and battery with a dangerous weapon
  • Murder
  • Drug possession with intent to distribute
  • DUI 3rd offense or greater
  • Vehicular homicide
  • Child endangerment
  • Child pornography
  • Felony sexual assault or rape
  • Indecent assault
  • Gun charges
  • Burglary
  • Kidnapping

The presentencing report in a Massachusetts felony case is usually more serious. The investigation and report can be the major tool the judge will use to determine what your sentence will be. The presentence investigation is usually done by a probation officer. During the investigation, you, your family members and employers may be interviewed.

The report is a breakdown of all vital information the judge would need to know to decide a sentence, such as:

  • Criminal history
  • Mental health background
  • Financial records
  • Employment history and status
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Residential status
  • Community ties
  • Recommendation of probation officer

One of the outcomes of the presentencing report review is the judge may conclude you are a candidate for probation.

Massachusetts Laws and Penalties

A misdemeanor can result in jail time in this state, but not always. With the help of an attorney, you may be able to strike a deal with the prosecutor for some misdemeanors that involve fines, time in treatment, probation, or community service. If not, you face up to a year in jail. The punishment for a misdemeanor is at the judge’s discretion.

For example, a common misdemeanor offense in this state might be disorderly conduct or a criminal driving offense, such as reckless driving (without death or serious injury). If you are a first time offender, neither of these crimes would likely result in jail time.

One of the ‘benefits’ of a misdemeanor conviction in Massachusetts is that it will not prevent you from working. A misdemeanor may be on your record, it will not necessarily prevent you from finding a job, or serving in the military. You also can still get a job in law enforcement with a misdemeanor. If you were under 18 when you committed the crime, it will eventually be erased from your record.

Felonies, on the other hand, will result in more than a year in prison. For example, a first degree murder conviction will get you up to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But, a judge in this state can limit the sentence if he sees something in your background or the nature of the crime that warrants it. You might be sentenced to 25 years in prison and not the full term of life.

For drug possession with intent to distribute, you could be fined between $500 to $5000 for possessing under 50 pounds of marijuana, and receive up to two years in prison. If you commit such a felony offense within 300 feet of a school, the fine can be from $1000 to $10,000 and a prison term of two to 15 years.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations in this state depends upon whether it was a felony or misdemeanor crime. For example:

  • Murder: none
  • Robbery with weapon: 10 years
  • Rape or assault: 15 years
  • Sex crimes with minors: 15 years
  • All misdemeanors: 6 years
  • Fraud: 3 years
  • False imprisonment: 3 years
  • Trespass: 3 years

MA Felony and Misdemeanor Cases

  • Bryon Hefner Indicted in Felony Charges -- The husband of Massachusetts Sen Stan Rosenberg has been indicted on felony charges related to sexual assault, criminal lewdness and distributing nude photos.
  • Carthage MA Man Receives Time Served -- A man from Carthage was sentenced for his role in a robbery last month. He received time served and five years of probation for convictions on third degree robbery, second degree harassment and fourth degree grand larceny.
  • Man Sentenced to Probation for Making Threats -- A Bennington MA man was sentenced to probation after he admitted making threats to a woman involving a firearm last month.
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