Have you ever driven through a red light, taken a shortcut through private property, or perhaps had a little too much to drink in a public place?
At one time or another, we all break the law – sometimes they’re small crimes, usually done for a good reason (you’re late for an important meeting; you didn’t realize the area was out-of-bounds; you were out enjoying yourself with friends).
Other times, the crimes can be more serious. So what happens if you get caught breaking the law, even if it’s a simple mistake?
Understanding the Charges
The first step is knowing what type of crime you’ve been charged with. Criminal law is a complex subject that greatly depends on specific country/state laws, so here is a simple rundown of the main types of charges (for ease of reference, we’ll focus on North American law).
The lowest form of criminal offense. These are often run-of-the-mill violations, such as jaywalking, building permit infractions, or walking an unleashed dog (really!). Depending on the state, infractions don’t always carry a penalty more serious than a small fine.
These fall into two categories. First degree misdemeanors can include: driving under the influence (of drugs/alcohol), vandalism, and trespassing. A second degree can include: using an invalid driver’s license, criminal mischief (typically damage under $200), and loitering.
Criminal activity covered under first and second degree misdemeanors are often very similar; the biggest difference is in the penalty. First degrees can involve up to a year in local/county jail and a fine up to $1000. Second degrees occasionally carry a 60-day local jail term and fines up to $500.
These are serious crimes that are also classed by degree. First degree felonies, as with first degree misdemeanors, are the most consequential. Murder, tax evasion, and animal cruelty are top examples of felonies.
Possible jail time (in state prison) decreases the higher the felony degree (all the way to fourth degree). In the United States, there are also Federal Felonies, which are categorized by class. For example, a Class A offense means life in prison/the death sentence, whereas a Class E federal felony carries between one to five years in a state prison.
What Happens Next
Just as every state has different rules for which crime constitutes as which, an individual’s background is also taken into account.
If you are charged with a crime and it’s your first offense, there are many options open to you. For example, if you plead guilty to a misdemeanor you may be given probation. Furthermore, once this is served, the offense can be removed from your record.
Dismissal of charges is just one possible outcome. Provided you find a decent lawyer, you may be able to obtain a plea bargain and/or enter into a relevant program (for example, in Florida, those charged with an alcohol/drug offense may be able to take advantage of a special intervention).
Whether or not a person is able to get their charges dismissed or reduced, it’s very likely probation will be involved. As defined by legaldictionary.net, probation is “a sentence handed down to offenders in lieu of jail time. [It] is often reserved for first-time offenders who commit non-violent crimes, and requires frequent reporting to a probation officer.”
Fines and appointments must be completed on time, people and places deemed a bad influence must be avoided, and community service is often expected. As long as a person follows all their probation conditions, they can avoid going to jail or gaining a permanent criminal record.
Probation Versus Parole
Generally speaking, probation allows a person to continue being a part of their community as long as they abide by the appointed rules. Parole is similar, but carries stricter conditions and is for someone who has already served time in prison.
Did you also know you can terminate your probation early? If you’ve been a model citizen throughout your probation and followed all the rules, you could visit the website of a firm relevant to your location (Florida, for example) for specific advice.
What if you break your probation conditions? Perhaps you get stuck in traffic and miss an appointment, or accidentally bump into someone you’re supposed to avoid. This is where having a good lawyer becomes even more important.
We all make mistakes; sometimes, those mistakes carry a potential jail sentence and a hefty fine. The good news is there are many, many lawyers out there available to help. Not only that, but most of them offer a free consultation. So whatever your situation, you can be sure there’s a legal firm right for you.