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What Is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor in Washington?

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Facing criminal charges, whether they are large or small, is a stressful situation. Depending on the severity of the charges and the circumstances of your case, you could face penalties such as jail time, fines, and mandatory probation. However, not all criminal charges carry the same types of punishments. Typically, felony charges are more serious and carry harsher sentences, while misdemeanors have lesser, but still serious, consequences. If you’ve been arrested, please contact our Tacoma criminal defense attorney for help understanding your charges.

Misdemeanor Charges in Washington State

Under Washington state law, misdemeanor crimes are less serious than felony crimes, and are usually a more common charge. Disorderly conduct, petty theft, and obstructing traffic are examples of common misdemeanor crimes. Municipal and district courts usually hear cases involving these charges.

Typically, misdemeanor crimes carry the following penalties.

  • Fines up to $1,000 and/or
  • Imprisonment in county jail up to 90 days.

Misdemeanor charges can upgrade to gross misdemeanor or even felony charges based on the severity of the crime. Gross misdemeanors include driving under the influence of alcohol drugs, driving in a reckless or dangerous manner, or driving with a suspended license. If you commit multiple misdemeanors in the past, you can receive a gross misdemeanor charge for what would normally be a misdemeanor.

Gross misdemeanors usually carry higher, more severe punishments than your typical misdemeanor charge, but not as severe as felony charges.

  • Fines up to $5,000 and/or
  • Punishment up to 364 days in county jail.

Felony Crimes

Felony crimes are the most serious charges you can face in Washington state. They usually include violent and dangerous crimes, including rape, murder, and armed robbery. Crimes involving significantly high theft and damage also usually receive felony designations. Washington divides felonies into three categories: Class A, Class, B, and Class C.

  • Class C felonies are the least serious of the felony charges, but they still carry significant penalties. You can receive up to $10,000 in fines and/or 5 years in prison.
  • Class B felonies are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or fine sup to $20,000.
  • Class A felonies are the most serious felony charges you can receive. You can receive up to life in prison and/or a fine up to $50,000.

The more severe, violent, or serious the crime is, the higher class of felony charge you will likely receive. Usually, Washington Superior Court hears crimes that carry felony punishment.

In addition, receiving a felony charge has large implications for your life after prison. Aside from imprisonment and the high fines, you may see barriers to receiving future employment and advancing your career. You can also lose your right to vote and the ability to possess a firearm.

What to Do After an Arrest in Washington

The moments after an arrest can be confusing and disorienting. You may wonder what will happen in the future, and what steps you need to take to protect yourself. If you are facing criminal charges in Washington state, take these tips into consideration.

  • Comply with police officers. Do not resist arrest or attempt to escape. Doing so can lead to additional charges and a negative impact on the outcome of your case. Listen to the officer’s orders – you can always contact your attorney to assist you.
  • Adhere to your Miranda rights. Remember, you have the right to remain silent. Do not speak a police officer or investigator until your attorney is present.
  • As soon as you are able, call your lawyer to help you through your charges. If you do not already have an attorney, contact one as soon as possible. You will need an attorney to help you understand your legal options and safely speak to law enforcement officers, as well as prepare you for the courtoom.

Whether you are facing a felony or a misdemeanor charge in Washington state, you may require guidance through the criminal justice system. Hire an attorney as soon as possible to assist with your case. Your lawyer will be able to review and investigate the case against you, build a compelling defense in your favor, and assist you with preparing for your court dates.

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