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Felonies are substantially more complicated then their lesser cousins, misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors. By law, the difference between a Felony and a Misdemeanor is that a felony can be punished by 365 days in jail (1 year) or more, while a Misdemeanor must be punished by 364 days or less. This is a less important distinction then it appears. While felonies can be punished by more then a year, a substantial share will be punished by less then that, even down to zero days in jail. The other differences are much more substantial.

Felony Cases take place in superior court, while District Court handles misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases. This is a larger difference then it appears. Superior Court is far more formal then District Court. Events generally flow at a more regular pace, and the court is far more insistent on formalities. Your counsel will need to push you to make decisions quickly at times, instead of being able to continue matters.

The next big difference is how sentencing is done. In District Court, the judge always has the full range, from 0-90 for misdemeanors, and 0-364 days for a gross misdemeanor. Judges do not have that discretion in Washington. There is essentially a ‘book’ called the Washington State Sentencing Guidelines. These guidelines must be followed unless there exist mitigating or aggravating factors, allow a judge to order a below, or above guidelines sentence.

Finally, there are additional consequences of conviction of a felony, that do not exist in lesser cases. The judge has little discretion for these kinds of things. Your right to use, own, or possess a firearm will be stripped, you can lose your right to vote, and you will be subject to what people commonly think of as ‘probation’ in the form of community custody. This means you will have an officer charged by the state to make sure you are following whatever conditions the court placed upon you. That means that even if you are not in jail, the state can compel you to a number of things. The most common felony by far is simple possession of drugs. While the above seems dire, the truth is that there are many things an experienced attorney can try to help a client accused of Felony. Many of the above can be avoided or ameliorated in some cases. The best thing to do is to contact experienced defense counsel the moment you get wind of anything like being charged with a Felony.


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