Every state provides different levels of degrees or classes to categorize the seriousness of a crime. In general, the Class 1 felony label is typically reserved for the most serious types of felonies, such as first-degree or second-degree murder, and tend to result in the most severe forms of legal penalties (e.g., a prison sentence). Thus, it follows that a Class 4 felony label would apply to relatively minor felony crimes and involve a lesser degree of punishment.
However, not every state includes Class 4 felonies in their rating system. For example, some states like California organize their criminal offenses by the type of crime committed, whereas others use an alphabetical system to classify felonies, such as Class A, Class B, or Class C.
So, exactly what is a 4th Degree felony then? In states who apply this category of crimes, it is the least serious type of felony offense that a defendant can be charged with and is one step above the most serious level of misdemeanor offenses. Some examples of 4th Degree felonies include vehicular assault, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, criminal mischief, and theft of a motor vehicle.
Despite the fact that a Class 4 felony is a relatively lesser charge than being charged with a Class 1 felony, it can still lead to serious consequences, such as a state prison sentence of up to one year or longer, and having to pay fines of up to $10,000 or more. Therefore, if you are charged with a Class 4 felony, you should consult a local criminal defense attorney immediately for further legal advice.
What are Some Examples of Class 4 Felonies?
In general, felony charges typically cover a broad range of criminal activities and offenses. These may include both violent and non-violent acts, as well as an array of white-collar crimes (e.g., embezzlement). However, the definitions of specific felony crimes and their categories will vary based on the laws of a particular jurisdiction.
Thus, some more common examples that may be considered a fourth-degree felony across the board include:
- Aggravated assault;
- Possession of illegal drugs;
- Vehicular homicide;
- Sexual assault;
- Felony DUI;
- Perjury; and/or
- Dog fighting or other animal-related crimes.
How Bad is a Class 4 Felony And What Does It Mean in Court?
At the end of the day, a Class 4 felony is still considered a felony and thus such charges can result in serious legal consequences if a defendant gets convicted. Although sentencing guidelines will vary by state, the majority of Class 4 felony convictions result in a prison sentence of approximately one to three years. They also can include fines of up to $10,000 or more, depending on the jurisdiction.
Defendants convicted of a Class 4 felony will not only have to add this crime to their criminal record, but will also have to check off that they are a “convicted felon” after serving jail time. This can have a devastating effect on a person’s ability to find a job once they complete their sentence, secure decent housing, and will eliminate their right to vote.
It can also affect a person’s reputation within their community and their relationships with family members and friends.
In addition, a person who is convicted of a Class 4 felony and then gets charged with committing a crime again in the future, will receive a punishment that corresponds with a Class 1 felony if convicted. This is true even if the second crime they committed is only categorized as a Class 4 felony. This is because they will now be considered a repeat felony offender and repeat felony offenders receive harsher penalties.
What is the Difference between Felonies and Misdemeanors?
There are two main differences between felony and misdemeanor offenses. The first is that felonies tend to involve more serious crimes that usually entail some act of violence. The second is that a defendant who is convicted of a felony offense will often receive a harsher sentence. In other words, the level of punishment is the second primary difference between these two categories of crimes.
Criminal acts that constitute a felony are typically worse than those labeled as a misdemeanor. In general, crimes that are classified as felonies usually require proof of a higher mental state of intent (i.e., mens rea) than the level necessary to prove that a defendant committed a misdemeanor.
In addition, felony crimes also tend to cause greater harm to its victims, including the injuries sustained by a victim, the amount of damage done to property, and the harm caused to society overall.
Accordingly, felony convictions often result in a prison sentence of at least one year or longer. A defendant who is convicted of a felony may also have to pay a higher amount of criminal fines than a defendant who is only convicted of a misdemeanor.
In contrast, misdemeanor crimes usually lead to relatively lower criminal fines and a jail or prison sentence that does not exceed one year. Also, most misdemeanors are victimless crimes like traffic citations, disorderly conduct, and being in contempt of court. Thus, unlike felonies, misdemeanors generally do not end in death, severe bodily injury, or serious property damage.
Consider the following examples to get a clearer picture of how the above discrepancies operate under the law:
- Suppose a defendant is charged with the felony crime of “grand theft”. In most states, grand theft is defined as the taking of an item of property that is worth more than $1,000. If convicted, a defendant can receive a criminal fine of upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars and a prison sentence that exceeds twenty years. Note that these numbers represent maximum sentencing amounts.
- On the other hand, the comparable and lesser misdemeanor offense of “petty theft” is defined as the taking of property that is valued at $1,000 or less. Thus, a defendant who commits petty theft and gets convicted may need to pay a criminal fine of $1,000 or less, and can receive a jail sentence of no longer than one year maximum.
What is a “Wobbler” Crime?
In criminal law, a “wobbler” refers to a criminal offense that can be punished as either a misdemeanor or felony. This category of crimes was initially formed to ensure that the criminal justice system allowed for flexibility when it came time to sentence a criminal defendant.
For example, while a particular crime may traditionally be categorized as a felony, there are certain circumstances that may call for punishing a criminal defendant, but perhaps not as harshly as would be required for a felony. Therefore, to achieve justice, the prosecutor can propose or a court may issue a sentence that corresponds with a misdemeanor crime.
This same concept can work in reverse as in when a defendant commits a misdemeanor offense, but deserves a harsher punishment due to some unique factor that occurred during commission of the crime.
Class 4 felonies are often the subject of cases that involve wobbler crimes. Some examples of crimes that may qualify as a wobbler offense include driving under the influence (“DUI”), burglary, carrying a loaded firearm in public, assault, criminal threats, forgery, and some kinds of drug offenses.
Do I Need a Lawyer if I’m Facing Class 4 Felony Charges?
Class 4 felony charges can lead to very serious consequences. In fact, many states require that a defendant who is convicted of a Class 4 felony serve a minimum jail sentence of at least one year and/or pay a fine of up to $10,000. Felony crimes also become part of your criminal record and can affect your ability to vote in elections, gain custody over your children, and secure a job.
Thus, if you are facing charges for a Class 4 felony offense, then you should contact a local criminal lawyer immediately for further legal advice. Your lawyer will be able to explain the charges, can discuss your potential legal options (e.g., plea deal), and can predict what the outcome may be depending on which legal option you choose.
In addition, your lawyer can determine whether there are any defenses you can raise against the charges, can provide representation in court, and can request that a sentence be reduced or propose an alternative sentencing option.