What Are the Differences in Penalty Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony in Michigan?

Criminal offenses are divided into two (or three–keep reading) levels, which are misdemeanors and felonies. The most basic difference is the duration of possible incarceration. Felonies in Michigan are any offenses that are punishable by more than one year in prison. There is a subset of offenses called “high court misdemeanors” which are punishable by up to 2 years. However, the only thing that is a misdemeanor about them is the word misdemeanor, because they are treated as felonies for purposes of criminal procedure. Why the legislature ever created these “high court misdemeanors” is unknown to me. The other level of offenses are misdemeanors, which are punishable by incarceration for one year or less in the county jail.

The maximum penalties for felonies range from life in prison down to 2 years, depending on the offense. These “statutory” maximums can be enhanced by the habitual offender laws, whereby those persons with prior felony convictions can face higher penalties for new felony offenses. However, not all felony convictions result in a prison sentence, as convicted felons can also be lawfully sentenced to a term in the county jail (or possibly no jail at all if you hire a talented attorney). Sentencing in felony cases is governed by the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines. Essentially, these guidelines give the sentencing judge a range in months of what should be an appropriate sentence in a given case and if they sentence within these guidelines, it is presumed to be lawful. Properly scored guidelines are absolutely crucial and you should hire an attorney that is well-versed in scoring them properly. I will write a post in the future that breaks down more in depth how these guidelines work. Aside from the guidelines scores, there are also many statutes that control when a judge is and is not permitted to sentence an offender to incarceration. A smart attorney who is always up to date on the law will know the difference.

The maximum penalties for misdemeanors range from 30 days to one year incarceration in the county jail. One of the biggest differences in penalties for misdemeanors to that of felonies is there are no sentencing guidelines. This means that with the exception of some statutes that carry a rebuttable presumption of no jail, judges sentencing for misdemeanor convictions are permitted to lawfully incarcerate offenders from one day to the maximum number of days in jail. This can make for interesting situations where an offender can actually receive more jail time for a case reduced to a misdemeanor than would’ve been permitted for the felony that was dismissed!

 If you or someone you know are facing a criminal charge, contact Terry Nolan or Andy Lapres at Nolan Law Offices, PLLC by calling 231-769-2600.