How To Kill The Mood At A Dinner Party

J. Bradley Klepper
Attorney at Law

If you are willing to entertain the far-fetched notion that lawyers have friends you may also believe that, occasionally, we get invited to social functions. At these events one of the most common questions we get asked, other than will you draft my will (the answer is no), is the difference between misdemeanors and felonies.

Before I answer that question, I also point out that there are civil infractions as well. For what it is worth, civil infractions are non-criminal charges filed by a city, county, state or federal government and usually are punishable with only a fine. Things like minor speeding offenses such as speeding 1-10 mph over the limit are often civil infractions.

In order to be convicted of a civil infraction the State must show by the “preponderance of the evidence” that you committed the offense. This simply means it is more likely than not the offense happened and you committed the offense. This is the weakest standard of proof for a conviction. In most states if you are charged with a civil infraction you have no right to a trial by jury and the case is usually heard before a judge who renders a verdict.

The next level of offenses are misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are criminal charges that are more serious then civil infractions but not as serious as felonies and have jail time of less than one year and bigger fines. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor, the State must show “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you committed the crime. Put simply, this means that a reasonable person would have no doubt that you committed the crime. A conviction of a misdemeanor results in a criminal record and is punishable by jail time, fines, probation and even driver’s license revocation.

In addition, some misdemeanors may be classified as sex offenses and a resulting conviction can require the defendant to register as a sex offender thus requiring them to notify the police department of their home address and even prohibit them from approaching schools, parks or children. Some states have petty offenses or minor misdemeanors and the punishment is a fine but jail time can also be included.

Persons charged with a misdemeanor have no right to an attorney if a conviction does not result in jail time. They also do not have a right to a probable cause hearing or a right to a grand jury.

This brings us to felonies. Felonies are the more serious criminal charges and have jail time of one year or longer, the largest fines, and can result in your being put to death (in some states). The legal standard for conviction for felonies is the same as misdemeanors, “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Felonies are the types of crimes they make movies about. They include things such as murder, robbery, arson and sexual assault. Conviction of a felony will result in jail time. For some “minor” felonies you may be lucky and just be put on probation, pay fines, court costs, restitution or even perform community service. For the more serious felonies the death penalty may come into play; however, this usually requires the death of another person before the prosecutor will make it part of their case.

If you are convicted of a felony you will lose some very valuable rights. These include the right to possess a firearm, be on a jury or vote in some states. In the event you are unfortunate enough to find yourself arrested and charged with a felony seek legal counsel.

By the time I finish this discussion the person who asked me the question has a little spittle in the corner of their mouth and their eyes have glazed over. Trust me, nothing kills a vibe faster than asking a lawyer a legal question in a social setting. Interestingly, I can’t recall the last time I was invited to a dinner party.

J. Bradley Klepper, Esq. is President of Interstate Trucker Ltd., a law firm entirely dedicated to legal defense of the nation's commercial drivers. Interstate Trucker represents truck drivers throughout the forty-eight (48) states on both moving and non-moving violations. Brad is also Executive Vice President & General Counsel of Drivers Legal Plan, which allows member drivers access to his firm’s services at greatly discounted rates. Brad spent almost a decade with the largest law firm in Oklahoma where his practice included extensive experience in transactional law, business defense litigation, and intellectual property. In addition, Brad is a licensed architect and serves as General Counsel to the Oklahoma Board of Architects, Landscape Architects and Interior Designers.Brad has dedicated much of his time to DataQs challenges, which are challenges posed to the FMCSA for CSA incidents, to examine data and reports filed by law enforcement.

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Civil Infraction , Felony , Misdemeanor