Although we hear certain terms on a regular basis, we may not really understand what they mean. For example, what is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?

At first blush, most people would assume that misdemeanors are minor offenses, like shoplifting or theft, while felonies, on the other hand, are serious crimes, like murder or rape. While the distinction between misdemeanors and felonies does often follow the serious/less serious pattern, the differences between the two are more complicated, and involve more issues, than public perception of “bad” vs. “not-so-bad” crimes.

How are misdemeanors and felonies defined under the Arizona Criminal Code?

The Criminal Code definitions of these terms are rather simple, although not terribly informative. A.R.S. 13-105(25) says that a misdemeanor is any offense for which a sentence of imprisonment to the state department of corrections may not be imposed. In other words, a misdemeanor can lead to a sentence to jail, but not to prison. Not surprisingly, A.R.S. 13-105(18) says that a felony is any offense for which a term in the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections is authorized. It sounds like it fits the serious/less serious definition, but that, in itself, is not particularly informative.

The fact is that prior criminal history, the particular facts of a case, and other issues may come into play. Here are a few examples:

  • DUI – A conviction for driving under the influence, without more, is ordinarily a misdemeanor. Aggravated DUI, however, is a felony. Aggravated DUI includes a third DUI within 84 months, DUI with a child passenger in the vehicle, and several other variations.
  • Theft – Simple theft is generally a misdemeanor. But if the value of the property if $1,000 or more it is a felony.
  • Trespass – Unlawfully entering any real property after being requested to leave, and unlawfully entering a residence, both constitute the crime of criminal trespass. The first is a class is generally a misdemeanor, while the second is a felony.

Obviously, the distinction between a misdemeanor and a felony can be a bit more complicated than you might imagine. The result is that there are times when a felony should really be charged as a misdemeanor. Call us if you have questions regarding this or any other criminal law issue.

Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(480) 280-8028

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