Over the past two decades, the Connecticut legislature has amended our state’s criminal laws to change numerous misdemeanor crimes into felony offenses. Legislators are constantly changing criminal laws to keep in line with what they believe to be the public opinion of their supporters. If certain politicians want to seem tough on crime, one simple step is to create harsher charges or penalties for defendants to face.
Specifically, reports indicate that 49 different misdemeanors have been changed into felonies since 1995. These charges were escalated in two primary ways:
- An additional aggravating element was added that would escalate a misdemeanor to a felony.
- The elements of the offense remained the same while the penalties increased.
In both of these situations, a defendant may be surprised to learn that he is facing felony charges when he believed he was not committing a serious crime. These numerous changes show that you can never take it for granted that your seemingly minor crime will have limited penalties. Instead, laws can be changed and charges can be increased without you ever realizing it until you are suddenly facing felony charges and the possible penalties that come with these serious convictions.
Misdemeanor vs. Felony Penalties
In Connecticut, the difference between the possible penalties of a misdemeanor and felony conviction can be severe. Consider, for example, the following maximum penalties:
- Class B misdemeanor – $1,000 fine and six months in jail
- Class A misdemeanor – $2,000 fine and one year in jail
Even the most serious type of misdemeanor will not result in a state prison sentence, as the maximum imprisonment is one year. On the other hand, the following are maximum penalties for Connecticut felonies:
- Class D felony – $5,000 fine and one to five years in prison
- Class C felony – $10,000 fine and one to ten years in prison
- Class B felony – $15,000 fine and one to 20 years in prison
- Class A felony – $20,000 fine and ten to 25 years in prison
As you can see, the difference between a misdemeanor and felony conviction can be severe.
Never Trust the Law as It Is
The national climate is definitely not defense-minded. Instead, a large portion of the public expects legislators to be tough on criminals and seek punishment to the fullest extent of the law. On the federal level, the Attorney General’s office is focused on seeking the maximum allowable penalties when only a couple years ago, the trend was toward decriminalization of many offenses and finding solutions other than jail time for nonviolent offenders. This is just further proof that you can never rely on a specific trend when it comes to criminal laws on the state or federal level. Trends can – and will – change with the political majority and this can cause unexpected consequences for criminal defendants.
For this reason – among others – it is critical that criminal defendants seek representation by an attorney whose primary focus is criminal law. When a lawyer spends the majority of their time handling criminal cases, they have the opportunity to delve into the finer points of criminal laws, as well as stay up to date on the constant ebbs and flows of the severity of criminal consequences in the U.S. A criminal defense lawyer can advise you of the possible penalties you face from the first meeting and will know to approach your defense strategy with the appropriate seriousness from the very beginning.
On the other hand, if an attorney regularly splits their time between different types of legal cases and clients, they may spend a significant amount of time focused on civil law and may not have a chance to keep track of changing criminal laws in Connecticut. For this reason, this attorney may mistakenly believe that your offense is minor when in reality, it is a serious felony that can mean substantial jail time. This is only one of many considerations to keep in mind when choosing the right law firm to defend your rights in a Connecticut or federal criminal case.