Some people have the notion that a “criminal” is somehow different from a normal law-abiding citizen.
In reality, those who have been charged or convicted of breaking the law aren’t any different from those who haven’t. There are so many criminalized acts in the state of South Carolina that it can be overwhelming to even keep track of what you can and can’t do.
The truth is, everyone is capable of breaking the law. Criminals are not necessarily extraordinary—they’re often regular people, just like you and me. Given the right set of circumstances, even the most upstanding citizens could be charged with a felony or misdemeanor.
If this happens to you, you most likely have a million questions going through your mind. One of them may be, what is even the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony? Keep reading to find out the answer to this and many more questions.
1. What is the biggest difference between a misdemeanor charge and a felony charge in SC?
The most considerable difference between misdemeanor and felony charges is jail time. Since felony crimes are considered more dangerous than misdemeanors, the penalties are more severe. That means a convicted felon will most likely face a longer jail sentence than someone convicted of a misdemeanor.
Take a drug case dealing specifically with marijuana as an example. A First Offense Simple Possession conviction for marijuana can result in a jail sentence of up to 30 days. If you are convicted of Possession With Intent to Distribute, PWID, the penalty increases to a felony that carries a jail sentence of up to 5 years for a First Offense.
2. Are all criminal charges either misdemeanors or felonies?
No. While many crimes are misdemeanors or felonies, some crimes don’t fall into either category. These are infractions, and the penalty is often a ticket. Parking or traffic violations are examples of common infractions.
3. Are misdemeanor and felony charges broken into categories?
Yes. State law categorizes felony and misdemeanor charges into “classes.” There are three classes of misdemeanors, from A to C. And there are six classes of felonies, from A through F.
The classification system is like a ladder from more severe crimes to less serious crimes. In both cases, class A crimes are the most serious—and have harsher penalties—than the other classes.
4. How is the punishment for a misdemeanor different from punishment for a felony?
The penalties for felony convictions are usually harsher than the penalties for misdemeanor convictions. Not all felonies have the same sentence, however, and not all misdemeanors have the same sentence. The penalty ultimately depends on the charge and the specific details of a case.
5. Can I go to jail if I’m convicted of a misdemeanor charge?
Yes. If the court finds you guilty of a misdemeanor, you most certainly could serve time in the county jail.
Each offense carries a different penalty, and many misdemeanor offenses are associated with jail time. At the same time, many misdemeanor offenses carry a fine as the penalty for a conviction. In some cases you may even get a fine AND jail time. It all depends on the charge.
6. Will I go to jail if I’m convicted of a felony charge?
Not necessarily. While felonies tend to be more severe crimes that carry harsher consequences, not every felony conviction will land you in jail.
Your chances of avoiding a prison sentence are better if you hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Your defense attorney can negotiate on your behalf to try to get your charges reduced or possibly dismissed.
7. Are there limits to the penalties for misdemeanors and felonies?
Yes. Both classified misdemeanors and classified felonies have limits regarding the consequences they carry.
The South Carolina penal code lays out sentencing guidelines, which you can see in the chart below. In addition to using these guidelines, the court may ask for a pre-sentence report to determine if your unique situation calls for a shorter or longer prison sentence.
|Classified Offense||Term of Imprisonment|
|Class A felony||Up to 30 years|
|Class B felony||Up to 25 years|
|Class C felony||Up to 20 years|
|Class D felony||Up to 15 years|
|Class E felony||Up to 10 years|
|Class F felony||Up to 5 years|
|Class A misdemeanor||Up to 3 years|
|Class B misdemeanor||Up to 2 years|
|Class C misdemeanor||Up to 1 year|
8. What are some examples of misdemeanors in South Carolina?
There are many misdemeanor offenses, but here are a few examples along with their penalties.
|Classification||Statute Number||Offense||Jail Time||Fine|
|Class A||16-25-125(E)||Trespassing on the grounds of a domestic violence shelter||Up to 3 years||Up to $3,000|
|Class B||44-53-370(d)(1)||Possession of a narcotic controlled substance (first offense)||Up to 2 years||Up to $5,000|
|Class C||16-7-150||Slander and libel||Up to 1 year||Up to $5,000|
9. What are some examples of felony charges in South Carolina?
Just as there are many misdemeanor offenses, there are many felony offenses. A few examples, along with their penalties, are in the chart below.
|Classification||Statute Number||Offense||Jail Time||Fines|
|Class A||16-3-600||Aggravated assault||Up to 30 years||None|
|Class B||16-23-720||Detonating a destructive device or causing an explosion||10 – 25 years||None|
|Class C||16-3-85||Aiding in the death of a child by abuse or neglect||10 years to life, depending on the circumstances||None|
|Class D||16-3-1090||Assist another person in committing suicide||Up to 15 years||Up to $100,000|
|Class E||7-25-50||Bribery at elections||Up to 5 years (first offense)
Up to 10 years (second or subsequent offense)
|$100 – $500 (first offense)
$500 – $5,000 (second or subsequent offense)
|Class F||16-3-1730||Stalking||Up to 5 years||Up to $5,000|
10. Can misdemeanors and felonies be expunged in SC?
Sometimes. Not all misdemeanor and felony offenses are eligible for expungement, but many offenses are.
Getting your charges expunged means the State will remove them from your criminal record. Ask your criminal defense attorney whether your particular charges are eligible for expungement.
11. Do misdemeanors “go away”?
No, misdemeanors don’t just go away. Misdemeanors are prosecuted. They may not be as serious as felonies, but misdemeanor offenses are still crimes, and you need to prepare a defense.
The police will not just forget about it, and the state of South Carolina takes criminal justice seriously. You need to take it seriously, too.
12. How many misdemeanors make a felony?
No, misdemeanors do not “add up” and become a felony. That’s not how it works. Instead, misdemeanors and felonies are two separate crime classifications.
Nevertheless, you could be sentenced to harsher penalties if you are a repeat offender, meaning you have one or more previous convictions on your record.
13. Do misdemeanors show up on a background check?
Yes. Misdemeanors will show up on a background check, as will felonies. Any criminal record on your background check can affect your future chances in life, such as:
- Your current job
- Future jobs
- College applications
- Rental applications
14. Can felony charges be reduced?
Yes, felony charges can be reduced. This is not true, however, in every case.
Typically charges are reduced as a result of your attorney negotiating with the prosecution. In some cases, felony charges can even be dropped altogether.
15. Do I need a lawyer if I’m only charged with a misdemeanor offense?
Yes, you need a lawyer. Don’t let yourself be lulled into a false sense of security because your charge is “just” a misdemeanor. While misdemeanors aren’t as serious as felonies, they can still carry some harsh penalties.
You could end up paying hefty fines or serving time in jail for a misdemeanor conviction. A criminal defense lawyer can work to possibly get your charges reduced or dropped.
If you cannot afford to hire legal counsel, be sure to ask for advice from your court-appointed lawyer.
Are you facing felony or misdemeanor charges in South Carolina? We can help.
The experienced attorneys at Coastal Law fight misdemeanor and felony cases every day. We offer a range of legal services and can work with you to build the strongest case possible.
Contact us for a free consultation about your case. Dial (843) 488-5000, or fill out our online form.