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What Is a Felony Charge?

What Is a Felony Charge?

People facing felony charges usually ask, “what is a felony charge?” A felony charge describes any criminal offense carrying a penalty of a year or longer in prison. The offense remains a felony even if a judge sentences an offender to less than a year in prison. Convicted felons are usually imprisoned at a state prison. Besides imprisonment, the judge may impose fines and other conditions for release. 

A felony conviction may also carry numerous long-term consequences, ranging from trouble getting a job, professional license loss, and voting rights loss. Some of the many crimes carrying a felony charge include first-degree driving while impaired (DWI), drug possession, thefts of $1,000 or more, first- to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, and murder. The sentence for some of these Minnesota felonies is life behind bars. 

What is a Felony 

A felony in Minnesota is any serious criminal offense punishable by one year or longer in prison. Depending on the seriousness of the crime, a felony may come with at least one year of supervised release after you complete the sentence. Some felonies may also include supervised or unsupervised probationary periods. Other felonies may involve fines.  

Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor

The severity of a criminal offense determines whether it gets classified as a misdemeanor or an outright felon. The severity also influences the penalties and fines incurred. 

Generally, misdemeanor offenses like shoplifting, vandalism, fourth-degree drunk driving, or possessing below 20 grams of cannabis get viewed as less serious offenses. So, these offenses carry less harsh penalties. 

Felonies like carjacking, sexual battery, robbery, homicide or murder, and financial fraud are serious criminal offenses. They carry lengthier sentences of up to one year and thousands in fines. The maximum prison time for these infractions can run into decades. Worst case: The offender gets incarcerated forever. 

Another difference between a misdemeanor and a felony in Minnesota is how these offenses get prosecuted. The legal procedures for felonies involve going through pre-trials and appearing at grand jury indictments. In misdemeanor cases, the defendant may need to go before a judge, but no jury is involved in most cases. 

Penalties Associated with a Felony Charge

Often, the sentencing goes hand in hand with the monetary fines or penalties. The severity of the offense determines the penalties incurred by the offender. Your criminal history is a crucial factor as well.

In Minnesota, a felony is a serious offense carrying the highest penalties and fines. Convicted felons face prison times of beyond one year or fines of above $3,000, or both. Life behind bars is the maximum penalty for serious felony offenses. Life sentences are rare, however. 

Typically, offenders are sentenced to prison or served with a stay order where the defendant does not have to do time behind bars. The prison time depends on the seriousness of the particular felony offense, as outlined by the sentencing grid. 

Consequences of Felony Convictions

The consequences of a felony charge can be debilitating both in the short and long term. These consequences are adverse even if you did not get convicted. A felony charge or even a dismissed felony case severely affects your finances. It impacts the present and future employment prospects. The record creates barriers to re-entering society. Also, it can ruin your reputation forever. 

Due process dictates that the judge should make you (the defendant) fully aware of the collateral consequences of entering a guilty plea in felony cases. Here are the adverse effects of getting convicted of a felony:

Trouble Securing Employment

Records show that more than 60% of formerly incarcerated felons cannot secure employment a year after release. That makes it impossible for these ex-convicts to earn income to assist and support themselves and their families. Unemployment makes returning citizens vulnerable to committing crimes once more. 

Lower Wages 

The ex-convicts who manage to secure employment do not have it easy either. The unfortunate reality is that ex-convicts get paid significantly lower wages. The reason is that very few other employers are willing to hire these ex-convicts.

Housing Problems

Many landlords do not accept leasing out properties to these returning citizens. These landlords conduct background checks before admitting new tenants to sniff out ex-convicts. That breaks apart families, as the returning citizens are put up in homeless shelters. 

Government Benefits 

Other debilitating consequences associated with entering a plea in a felony case or a conviction include missing out on specific government grants, such as food stamps and student loans. It may also result in the defendant getting stripped of his or her professional license. 

Expunging Criminal Records in Minnesota 

Minnesota’s Statutes section 609A .2 subsection 3b allows the statutory expungement of fifty misdemeanor charges and selected felony convictions. Some felony conviction cases can only get expunged under the inherent authority route. This process is open to defendants accused of felony charges that were later dropped or dismissed without guilty convictions. Individuals with a stay of adjudication also qualify for this redress. 

The common felony cases that may get expunged include 1st to 4th-degree drug possession offenses, financial fraud and forgery, domestic assault, criminal sexual assault, and thefts of less than $5,000. 

How Minnesota’s Felony Offenses Rank 

Minnesota’s Sentencing Guidelines Authority relies on a sentencing grid to sentence felons. It assigns offense severity levels to the different felonies. This grid influences the overall sentencing and other dispositions like penalties and probation.

Sentencing Grid Guidelines 

The sentencing grid comprises severity levels ranging from 1 to 11. It also encompasses the defendant’s criminal records that get assigned values between 0 and 6. Judges use these factors to determine the sentencing range of felony cases. 

Minnesota runs three separate sentencing grids. They are the sexual assault cases grid, the drug offenses grid, and the standard sentencing grid. The latter grid contains all the remaining felonies. Misdemeanor crimes are not listed in these three sentencing grids, however. 

For example, as per the sentencing grid, a first-degree assault case attracts a possible maximum sentence of 20 to 25 years in Minnesota. This felony charge has a severity level of 9 out of 11.

If the defendant happens to be a first-time offender, he or she will have a 0-value criminal record. In such a case, the sentencing grid recommends a sentence range of 6 to 7 years. However, if the defendant is a repeat offender with 5 to 6 past felonies, the grid issues a lengthier jail time of up to 12 to 15 years.

Judges can go above or below the recommended range, but the sentencing range should always remain within the permitted statutes (Minn. Statute 244.09 to 10). For instance, a judge may go beyond the grid’s recommendations and hand out the maximum sentence of 25 years if aggravating factors like assaulting a child or a disabled person exist in a case involving first-degree assault. 

Additionally, the sentencing grid guides the court’s decision to issue an execution or stay directive. That means courts can decide to send the defendant to prison or suspend the sentence and instead place the defendant on probation. A stay directive resulting in probation does not necessarily mean this defendant walks scot-free. Probate defenders may serve out the remaining time under home arrest. 

The judge may also issue a decree prohibiting the defendant on probation from using controlled substances or alcohol. The offender may get sentenced to do hours of community service. If the offender violates the probation, the judge may add more restrictions and conditions to the probation or revoke it and require the offender to serve the remaining time in prison.  

Importance of Using Sentencing Grids

Sentencing grids enable transparency, fairness, and consistency in courts. The guidelines ensure that you do not get unfair rulings based on gender, residence, political affiliation, wealth, and race.

Do You Need a Felony Defense Lawyer 

The consequences of a felony charge and conviction go over and above imprisonment and thousands of dollars in fines. Felony charges and convictions may permanently get incorporated into your criminal record. This record might make it hard, if not impossible, to secure jobs, rent public housing property, or receive government grants like student/business loans. 

In felony cases involving aggravating circumstances, you might risk losing your voting rights. You might also get a harsher sentence if you have a citation for the same or related offense on your record. 

The best way to avoid the severe consequences of a felony charge is to hire a skilled felony lawyer right after you get charged with a felony or discover the police are investigating you for a criminal offense. Your lawyer can investigate the criminal offense and the charges against you to determine the best strategy to avoid a conviction. 

Your lawyer can initiate negotiations with the prosecutors and help you get the best plea deal. The lawyer can also request the court to postpone the entry of a conviction. If a conviction is unavoidable, your lawyer can help you get your housing and employment affairs in order prior to the sentencing. 

Get legal advice from Max Keller