Types of Offenses in Somerset
In Somerset County, as in the rest of Maryland, there are typically two types of offenses that someone can be charged with: felonies and misdemeanors. The type of charge an individual faces is distinguished by the language of the statute, and a lot of times are also distinguished by a maximum penalty. Generally, misdemeanors are less serious offenses that cause minimal harm while felonies are typically the most serious types of crimes and therefore typically have a much larger maximum penalty.
With that said, misdemeanors and felonies will be tried in different courts. In Maryland, the District Court does not have jurisdiction to hear felony cases. The case may be in District Court briefly, but only for purposes of a preliminary hearing to determine probable cause. All felonies are tried in Circuit Court in the county where the crime allegedly occurred. However, regardless of which type of offense you are facing, it is important to consult with a Somerset criminal lawyer to build a strong defense, and contest the charges.
Unique Aspects of Each Offense
Oftentimes a felony requires all the same elements of a misdemeanor and more, like an aggravated factor, that changes the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony. For example, in Maryland it is a misdemeanor to possess a drug like cocaine. However, if a person possesses cocaine with the intent to distribute it, that additional element changes the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony. The same principle holds true regarding burglaries, theft, and other crimes.
Another example would be the difference between a misdemeanor burglary and a felony burglary. In a misdemeanor burglary, the elements are that the person broke in and entered the dwelling of another person. However, if the elements include that they broke in and entered the dwelling of another person, specifically with the intent to commit a theft that elevates the crime from a misdemeanor of a fourth degree burglary to the felony of a first degree burglary.
How These Crimes Are Prosecuted
Felonies are treated very differently from misdemeanors, even if they are non-violent felonies because they are typically much more serious charges. As a result, these offenses tend to be ones that could carry significant prison sentences for a conviction. For misdmeanors on the other hand, district court prosecutors are going to be aggressive in their prosecution, but they may seek methods of resolution besides conviction
For example, it may just be a matter of making sure that restitution gets paid back to a victim, or if something was damaged that it be repaired. If that can correct the situation, then maybe the defendant does not need to be convicted of a crime. Also, for those misdemeanors heard in district court, oftentimes the potential sentence is going to be much lighter, like a couple of weekends in jail or maybe paying a fine.
It is important to understand that, when it comes to going to court, there really are not that many hard and fast rules. Each case is specific in its facts and each case is different when it comes to each individual defendant. All of those unique characteristics need to be taken into consideration trying to determine the best way to handle a case.
The long term consequences of a misdemeanor could include, a negative impact on employment. Misdemeanor theft charges for stealing something under $100, without much value, will still place a theft conviction on somebody’s record that can be damaging when it comes to looking for employment. Most employers may be reluctant to hire somebody who has a theft conviction on their record; and an employer may not make a huge distinction between whether it was a misdemeanor theft or a felony theft. Just because someone is convicted of misdemeanor, it does not mean that there would not be any consequences.
Another example of a potential consequence could be if the individual requires a security clearance or perhaps needs to hold some particular license or certification for their job that needs to be renewed every couple of years. The fact that there is a conviction on their record, even if it is for a misdemeanor, might impact their ability to get that license or the certification renewed. Even if they have been successful in maintaining their clearance for several years, when it comes time to renew it, they now have a conviction on their record that may prevent them from maintaining the level of security clearance that they had in the past.