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Are All Federal Crimes Felonies?

Generally, federal crimes carry more substantial penalties than state crimes. Because of this, and likely because of stories in the media of people convicted of federal crimes receiving lengthy prison sentences, some may believe that all federal offenses are felonies. But this perception is inaccurate. Federal crimes can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors, depending on the type of conduct involved.

At Brockton D. Hunter P.A., we provide legal representation for those accused of various federal crimes in Minneapolis. If you need trusted counsel, contact us at (612) 979-1112. Keep reading to learn more about the differences between federal felonies and misdemeanors.

What Is a Federal Crime?

Before discussing the distinguishing characteristics between federal felonies and misdemeanors, it is pertinent to clarify what a federal crime is in general.

A federal crime is an offense that falls under federal jurisdiction.

For the federal government to investigate and prosecute, an alleged violation must have:

  • Occurred on federal property,
  • Involved a federal agent or employee, or
  • Crossed state or country lines, or
  • Broken a federal law.

The United States Code lists various types of conduct that can be pursued as a federal crime. Not all acts codified in the statutes are felonies; some of them are misdemeanors.

What's the Difference Between a Federal Felony and a Federal Misdemeanor?

The variable distinguishing federal felonies and misdemeanors is the amount of prison time that can be imposed upon a conviction. The more serious offenses are felonies, which means they have longer terms of imprisonment. It follows then that less serious offenses are misdemeanors, which have shorter periods of incarceration.

Although we say "more serious" and "less serious" when referring to felonies and misdemeanors, we want to clarify that a charge for either is still severe. A conviction can affect an individual in various ways. For instance, they can be sentenced to imprisonment, fined, and incur a mark on their criminal record.

Additionally, whether someone is charged with a federal felony or a federal misdemeanor, they must still go through the federal judicial system to resolve the matter.

The federal criminal process can include, but is not limited to:

  • An investigation
  • An arrest
  • An initial appearance
  • One or more hearings
  • Plea bargaining
  • A trial
  • Sentencing

We've spoken generally about the difference between a federal felony and a federal misdemeanor, but let's now get into more specifics. The federal government separates felonies into five classifications and misdemeanors into three categories.

The potential penalties for the various levels and classes are as follows:

  • Class A felony: Maximum term of life imprisonment or death
  • Class B felony: 25 years or more of imprisonment
  • Class C felony: 10 years or more but less than 25 years of imprisonment
  • Class D felony: 5 or more years but less than 10 years of imprisonment
  • Class E felony: More than 1 year but less than 5 years of imprisonment
  • Class A misdemeanor: More than 6 months but no more than 1 year of imprisonment
  • Class B misdemeanor: More than 30 days but no more than 6 months of imprisonment
  • Class C misdemeanor: More than 5 days but no more than 30 days of imprisonment

Note that the federal government also classifies violations as infractions. These are punishable by 5 days or less of imprisonment.

What Are Examples of Federal Felonies and Misdemeanors?

Depending on what's involved in the offense, a violation of federal law may be either a felony or a misdemeanor.

Examples of federal felonies include:

  • Drug trafficking (21 U.S.C. § 841): Unlawfully manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing controlled substances can lead to years in prison. For instance, trafficking in 1 kilogram or more of a mixture containing a detectable amount of heroin is punishable by 10 years to life imprisonment.
  • Mail and wire fraud (18 U.S.C. §§ 1341 & 1343): It is illegal for anyone to use the USPS, a commercial carrier, or electronic communication to further a scheme to defraud. Generally, a conviction can result in a prison term of up to 20 years.
  • Money laundering (18 U.S.C. § 1956): Engaging in transactions to further unlawful activity, commit tax fraud, avoid reporting requirements, or conceal the source of ill-gotten proceeds can be prosecuted as money laundering. The penalties for the crime include imprisonment for not more than 20 years.
  • Murder (18 U.S.C. § 1111): When the unlawful killing of another person occurs within the jurisdiction of the U.S. government, it is punishable by life in federal prison or death.
  • Tax evasion (26 U.S.C. § 7201): Willfully failing to file taxes or pay the amount owed can result in imprisonment for up to 5 years.

Examples of federal misdemeanors include:

  • Simple assault (18 U.S.C. § 111): Resisting, opposing, intimidating, or interfering with certain officers or employees can result in imprisonment for up to 1 year.
  • Accepting a bribe to receive a loan (18 U.S.C § 215): If a person gives or receives a commission or gift to influence a financial institution employee or agent to influence transaction decisions, they could be prosecuted under this statute. If the amount of the thing offered or accepted is not more than $1,000, the individual could be imprisoned for up to 1 year.
  • Counterfeit military or naval discharge certificates (18 U.S.C. § 498): Making or using a forged or altered discharge certificate for the Armed Forces can be penalized by up to 1 year in prison.
  • Theft by bank officer or employee (18 U.S.C. § 656): A bank officer or employee who embezzles or misappropriates funds, assets, or any property of the financial institution valued at $1,000 or less can be imprisoned for up to 1 year.
  • Blackmail (18 U.S.C. § 873): A person who demands something of value to intimidate or affect the actions (or inactions) of another concerning a violation of federal law can face up to 1 year of imprisonment.

What Should I Do If Accused of a Federal Felony or Misdemeanor?

The judicial process for federal crimes differs from that for state crimes. That is why it is crucial to have someone on your side who knows the system.

If you have been charged with a federal felony or misdemeanor, contact an attorney who practices federal criminal defense. They can stand by you at each step, explain what's entailed, and help you understand your legal options.

For aggressive defense from a Minneapolis team with extensive experience, call Brockton D. Hunter P.A. at (612) 979-1112 or submit an online contact form today.

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