If you have recently been accused of a misdemeanor offense, you may be wondering whether you really need to retain an attorney. While it’s certainly true that misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, the fact is that any criminal conviction can result in significant legal and collateral consequences that have the potential to affect nearly every aspect of your life. For this reason, if you have been arrested or received a summons for any criminal charge – whether it’s a misdemeanor or a felony – you should absolutely call an Appleton criminal defense attorney as soon as you can.
What’s the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?
Most people intuitively understand that misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, but are unclear about the exact difference between the two. In most jurisdictions, misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in prison, and felonies are punishable than more than one year in prison. Felonies often result in additional collateral consequences, such as the loss of the right to vote or the inability to legally possess a firearm.
Wisconsin law is slightly different and defines felonies as crimes punishable in state prison, and all other crimes as misdemeanors. In addition, Class A misdemeanors (the most serious) are punishable by up to 9 months in jail.
Common Misdemeanor Offenses
Misdemeanor offenses cover a wide range of conduct, including conduct that many people would consider to be examples of youthful indiscretion or a momentary lapse of judgment rather than criminal behavior. Some common misdemeanor charges include:
- Most OWI (also known as DUI or DWI)
- Simple drug possession
- Disorderly conduct
- Minor in possession of alcohol
A Misdemeanor Conviction Can Result in Significant Legal and Collateral Consequences
While misdemeanors are undoubtedly less serious than felonies, it’s vital to understand that they can still result in significant consequences that you want to avoid. Even a conviction for a first-offense misdemeanor could result in:
- Significant fines
- Conditions on your ability to leave the area
- Mandatory drug or alcohol testing
- Mandatory counseling
- Jail time
These possible legal consequences are certainly undesirable, but the potential collateral consequences of a misdemeanor criminal conviction are often more serious – and less apparent. In fact, many people do not realize that these kinds of collateral consequences are even an issue until years after they pleaded guilty and accepted what they thought was a “slap on the wrist.” Some of the more serious potential collateral consequences of a criminal conviction are discussed below.
Difficulty Getting a Job
Background checks have become nearly universal among employers, and even a misdemeanor conviction is likely to raise eyebrows and make you a less attractive candidate than someone with a clean record.
Termination from Your Current Position
Wisconsin is an at-will employment state, which means that your employer can fire you at any time, and for any reason, provided that the reason is not prohibited by discrimination laws. As a result, if your employer finds out that you have been convicted of a crime, it could very well terminate you, leaving you unemployed with a fresh conviction on your record.
Most colleges and universities have student codes of conduct that prohibit their students from engaging in criminal misconduct. If you are convicted of a crime, you may be facing sanctions like probation, the loss of your scholarship or financial aid package, disqualification from on-campus housing, suspension, or even expulsion. Additionally, a criminal conviction may affect your chances of gaining admission to the academic institution of your choice in the future.
Problems Renting an Apartment
A misdemeanor conviction could also affect your chances of renting the apartment you want. Like employers, many landlords have made a background check a standard part of the application process. Any criminal conviction may make a landlord less likely to rent an apartment to you.
How an Appleton Criminal Defense Lawyer May Be Able to Help
Fortunately, the fact that you have been accused of a misdemeanor does not necessarily mean you will be convicted. There are many ways that an experienced attorney may be able to help you put the matter behind you while protecting your future.
- In some cases, a lawyer may be able to have the case against you completely dismissed or dropped. For example, if the police made any mistakes while investigating your case, it may be possible to have the evidence they gathered suppressed, meaning that the prosecution cannot use it against you. Without access to critical evidence, the prosecution may be forced to drop the case.
- Your attorney may be able to negotiate a plea bargain that involves a Deferred Prosecution Agreement or Deferred Acceptance of a Guilty Plea that allows you to plead guilty without a conviction being entered into the record. If you comply with the conditions of the agreement (usually a period of probation and other conditions, such as drug and alcohol testing and staying out of trouble), the case against you will be dismissed, allowing you to avoid a conviction.
- If your case goes to trial, your attorney can try to poke holes in the state’s case against you by creating reasonable doubt in order to obtain an acquittal. There may also be affirmative defenses that you can raise, in which you do not deny the state’s allegations but argue there are additional facts that justify or make your conduct non-culpable.
Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with an Appleton Criminal Defense Lawyer
There is no such thing as a minor criminal matter. For this reason, if you are facing criminal charges, it’s in your best interest to retain an experienced attorney as soon as you can. At Hogan Eickhoff, we offer free consultations during which we will listen to your side of the story and give you our honest appraisal of your options without judgment. We are committed to helping our clients resolve their criminal matters as favorably as possible. To schedule a free case evaluation with one of our criminal defense attorneys in Appleton, call us today at (920) 450-9800 or contact us online.