Tennessee crimes that may result in jail sentences are classified as either misdemeanor or felony offenses. The penalties and ramifications of each significantly differ. Of the two, felonies are the more serious offense and carry greater penalties than a misdemeanor offense. Tennesseans charged with a criminal offense may distinguish misdemeanors from felonies by the potential penalties and/or fines. Misdemeanors may be punished by a maximum jail sentence of eleven months, twenty-nine days,1 whereas the lowest felony penalty carries a minimum sentence of one year in prison.2
In addition to jail time, other penalties require consideration. For example, misdemeanor fines range from zero to $2,500.3 Class A felonies, on the other hand, may carry a maximum fine of up to $50,000.4 These fines do not include court costs and other related expenses. Occasionally, a fine is imposed instead of probation or imprisonment for misdemeanor offenses, but it may also be imposed in addition to other punishment.
Also of interest is that the same criminal offense may be regarded as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on its severity. For example, in Tennessee, the distinction between a misdemeanor and a felony theft charge depends on the value of the stolen property or services.5 When the value of stolen property or services is $500 or less, the punishment is a Class A misdemeanor, while any theft valued over $500 is considered a felonious act.6
Similarly, a misdemeanor may be elevated to a felony based on other factors such as the use of a deadly weapon,7 prior convictions on the accused’s record,8 and other related considerations.9 For example, one charged with reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor, may have their charge elevated to a Class E felony by the prosecutor if he or she believes there was a display or use of a deadly weapon (could even be a motor vehicle).10
As noted above, it is also important to recognize that prosecutors have the authority to amend the original charge to a more serious crime within certain time limitations (and often to a less serious crime after a defense attorney convinces the prosecutor of the weaknesses in the State’s case). However, any type of criminal conviction will likely adversely impact a person’s ability to obtain employment, housing, and/or credit rating.
Thus, if you are facing felony and/or misdemeanor criminal charges of any kind, you will need experienced legal representation. Contact the Knoxville criminal defense lawyers from Oberman & Rice for assistance. At Oberman & Rice, we believe “Your Future is Our Present Concern®.” We are committed to representing our clients with unparalleled attention and communication – 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
The author, Steve Oberman, would also like to recognize and thank Matt Wayne, a second year law student at the University of Tennessee College of Law, for his contributions in researching and editing this article.
1 Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-111(e)(1).
2 Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-111(b)(5).
3 Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-111(e)(1).
4 Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-111(b)(1).
5 Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-14-105(a)(1)-(6).
6 Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-14-105(a)(1)-(2).
7 Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-13-103(b)(1)-(2) (stating that reckless endangerment is a Class A misdemeanor; however, “[r]eckless endangerment committed with a deadly weapon is a Class E felony(.)”). Id.
8 See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-103 (comments citing State v. Ramsey, 903 S.W.2d 709 (Tenn. Crim. App.1995) in which the court considered the “[d]efendant’s history of misdemeanor convictions” to justify imposing the maximum sentencing penalty under Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-103(b)). Id.
9 See generally Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-103 .
10 Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-103(b)(2) .