When you have been accused of a crime in Michigan, it can make an important difference whether you have been accused of a felony or a misdemeanor. There are many essential differences between a felony conviction and a misdemeanor conviction related to the penalties you face and the impact of the conviction on your future.
Felonies and misdemeanors are fundamentally different in many ways, from the actions a prosecutor must take before charging you all the way to how your rights are affected years after a conviction.
Some of the key differences between felonies and misdemeanors include:
- The right to a preliminary examination. In general, you cannot be charged with a felony crime in Michigan unless a preliminary investigation has occurred in a district court and a prosecutor has established probable cause to believe you committed a felony. A misdemeanor offender can be charged without a preliminary examination.
- The number of jurors in a jury trial. While you have the right to be tried by a jury of your peers both for a misdemeanor and a felony, there must be 12 jurors to hear felony cases. In misdemeanor cases, the jury is made up of only six jurors.
- The number of jurors you can challenge. When a jury is put together for your case, you can challenge certain jurors, which essentially means removing them from the jury. Jurors can always be challenged for cause (if there’s some reason they can’t be fair and serve on the jury). Defendants also get a certain number of preemptory challenges, which means removing a juror for any reason or no specific reason. When you have been charged with a felony, you get five preemptory challenges or 12 for offenses where you face life in prison. When you have been charged with a misdemeanor, you get only three preemptory challenges.
- Length of prison sentences. For a misdemeanor, you typically cannot be sent to jail for more than one year, and you may not go to jail at all. Sentences for misdemeanors can be served in county jails. If you are convicted of a felony, you could serve your sentence in state prison rather than a county jail. You could also face more than a year of incarceration – sometimes up to life in prison. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every felony conviction results in 12 or more months of prison time, just that it could.
- The impact of a conviction on your rights. Convicted felons can lose the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury and the right to bear arms. While these rights may be regained after a certain time, you may have to take specific action to get your rights restored. You may also become permanently ineligible for a concealed carry permit.
- The impact on future employment. Many employers will include a question on applications regarding whether you have ever been convicted of a felony. Licensing authorities for many regulated professions may reject applications from applicants with a felony on their record, and all branches of the military typically reject felons.
A felony conviction may have much harsher and more lasting consequences than a misdemeanor conviction. This is why it is so important to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer if you have been charged with a felony in Michigan. In some cases, an attorney may be able to help you plea bargain your charges down to a misdemeanor, rather than a felony, so you can be spared some of the harshest and most lasting effects of a conviction.
There are also special programs, such as the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, under which first-time offenders aged 17-21 (and up to age 24 with the agreement of the prosecutor) may plead guilty to felony-level offenses and be incarcerated in a county jail but have their felony convictions set aside if they complete a probationary period.