Robbins: Felonies, misdemeanors and infractions
If you’ve been keeping up, you know that the ex-president has been charged in Manhattan with a veritable bevy of felonies. Thirty-four counts to be precise.
And that’s just in Manhattan.
Soon, there may be more. The betting money is from Georgia first. And then, the feds.
The Teflon Don may soon be stewed in his own no-stick frying pan.
Thing is, though, that the New York charges are misdemeanors that became felonies owing to a precept of the law that provides that these particular kinds of misdemeanors can blossom into felonies if committed in furtherance of another crime.
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Yeah, that has left even some pretty bright legal minds scratching their collective heads. Of course, despite the indictment having been released, the Manhattan DA has not fully revealed his hand. Some time soon it will likely become clearer.
While most folks have at least some semblance of the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor, I’d venture that, most folks not being lawyers, their sense of it likely doesn’t go much further than: “Felonies are worse.”
But precisely what the diff is is sorta like the Easter Bunny; they know it when they see it, but just how is it that a bunny is replete with eggs?
As such, a little definitional music is in order.
First of all, both felonies and misdemeanors come in several flavors. In this case the “flavors” are called “classes” which in no way suggests that they are classy. In this state, felonies range from Class 1 through Class 6 and, just for fun, there’s a class known as “unclassified.” Class 1 felonies are the baddest of the bad; Class 6 is the least (forgive the pun) offensive. Although I am not licensed in New York, apparently in that state felonies range from A through E with A’s at the top of the seriousness heap. What Trump has been charged with are 34 Class E felonies.
Similarly, in Colorado, misdemeanors are “classed” in the case of misdemeanors Class 1, 2 and unclassified with a 1 being worse than a 2.
In this state, there are also petty offenses 1, 2, and unclassified, petty drug offenses in a class all by themselves, unclassified offenses, and traffic infractions, Classes A, B, and unclassified.
The theme of lower numbers or letters at the front of the alphabet being the most serious carries throughout.
Defining them now, a “felony” offense is typically defined as the commission of a crime that is punishable by a term of imprisonment of one year or more. Note the word “imprisonment” in the preceding sentence which (correctly) suggests that, upon conviction, prison, instead of jail, could be in the convicted party’s future.
Misdemeanors are often defined as offenses punishable only by fines or by short terms of imprisonment in local jails. This, however, does not preclude that a conviction of a felony offense could not also include a fine or other financial penalty.
The consequences of conviction differ too. Depending on the state (or whether the crime is a state or federal one) conviction for a felony rather than a misdemeanor could mean that the offender may lose some civil rights. While, as previously noted, the consequences vary from one jurisdiction to another, commonly they include forfeiture of the right to own or possess firearms, the right to vote, and the right to hold public office.
Infractions are a lesser matter. These consist of minor violations and, therefore, minor penalties or consequences. For example, certain traffic offenses may result in points against one’s license and a smallish fine.
In some sense, the distinction between infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies is the relative seriousness of each. But another, equally valid way to look at them is the consequences that each earns.
By the way, the class E felonies with which the ex-president is charged each carry up to four years in the slammer. While it is exceedingly unlikely that, even if convicted, he would do any time at all, if one adds up the potentialities, Trump could, in theory anyway, if he were convicted of all charges, be well past 200 years old before he saw the light of day.
As I have noted many times before in these columns, we do indeed live in interesting times. Perhaps none more so than the roiling present.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices Of Counsel in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Caplan & Earnest, LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, and divorce, and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address at Rrobbins@CELaw.com. His novels, “How to Raise a Shark (an apocryphal tale),” “The Stone Minder’s Daughter,” and “Why I Walk so Slow” are currently available at fine booksellers.