What is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

What’s the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor in SC?

You’ve probably heard the terms, but many people aren’t sure what they mean or why it matters. A felony is usually a more serious offense than a misdemeanor, although there are some outliers like high and aggravated breach of peace – a misdemeanor that carries more prison time than some felonies.

Apart from the potential penalties involved, there are some situations where it could make a difference if you have a felony on your criminal history, including when it affects your immigration rights, your right to possess a firearm, your ability to find employment or to get a professional license, renting a home, or taking out a loan from a bank.

Below, we’ll take a look at the differences between felonies and misdemeanors, including the classifications of felonies and misdemeanors under SC law.

What is a Misdemeanor in SC?

Misdemeanors in SC are often heard in the lower courts – the magistrate court if you were arrested in the county or the municipal court if you were arrested within city limits. If the misdemeanor offense carries no more than 30 days as a potential penalty, it will be heard in the lower courts.

With some exceptions, misdemeanor offenses that carry more than 30 days are heard in SC’s General Sessions Court along with all felony offenses. Also with some exceptions, the highest penalty for a misdemeanor offense in SC is three years for a Class A misdemeanor.

There are three classifications of misdemeanors in SC law.

What are the Different Types of Misdemeanors in SC?

SC Code Section 16-1-20 contains the potential penalties for Class A, B, and C misdemeanors in SC. In many cases, this is not relevant – most criminal offenses in SC contain the potential penalties in the text of the criminal statute, including misdemeanor offenses.

For example, all criminal offenses that are punishable by a maximum sentence of less than one year (many misdemeanor offenses in SC are punishable by no more than 30 days in jail) are considered misdemeanors but are exempt from the classification system.

In all other cases, the potential sentences for Class A, B, and C misdemeanors are:

Class A: up to three years in prison. Examples include:

  • Indecent exposure
  • First offense failure to stop for a blue light
  • Third offense driving under suspension

Class B: up to two years in prison. Examples include:

  • Second offense possession of Schedule V drugs
  • First offense possession of Schedule I or II drugs or LSD
  • Use of a firearm while under the influence of alcohol or drugs

Class C: up to one year in prison. Examples include:

  • Misconduct in office
  • Unlawful possession of gaming devices
  • Some financial transaction card offenses

Examples of “exempt” misdemeanors that carry a maximum penalty of 30 days include:

  • Assault and battery 3rd degree
  • Shoplifting first offense (less than $2000)
  • Possession of marijuana
  • Petit larceny
  • Disorderly conduct or breach of peace
  • Trespassing after notice

What is a Felony in SC?

Felonies are more serious offenses that typically involve harsher punishments – up to life in prison or even death. In addition to prison time, the potential penalties could include thousands of dollars in fines, sex offender registry, or the loss of privileges like the right to own a firearm or obtain occupational licenses.

There are six possible classifications of felony offenses in SC.

What are the Different Types of Felonies in SC?

SC Code Section 16-1-20 also contains the potential penalties for the six felony classifications under SC law. As with misdemeanor offenses, the potential penalties for felony offenses are often contained in the text of the criminal statute itself.

For example, murder is punishable by up to life in prison (or death in certain cases), so it does not fall within one of the felony classifications listed below. Regardless of what you are charged with, you will need to read the criminal statute and any related penalty statutes to know what the possible punishment is for a particular offense.

That being said, the classifications for felonies in SC include:

Class A: up to 30 years in prison. Examples include:

  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Attempted murder
  • Criminal sexual conduct (CSC) first degree

Class B: up to 25 years in prison. Examples include:

  • Second-degree arson resulting in great bodily injury
  • Felony DUI resulting in death
  • Failure to stop for blue light resulting in death

Class C: up to 20 years in prison. Examples include:

  • Criminal sexual conduct (CSC) second degree
  • Carjacking
  • Domestic violence high and aggravated

Class D: up to 15 years in prison. Examples include:

  • Third-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor
  • First offense manufacturing or distribution of cocaine or methamphetamine
  • Felony DUI with great bodily injury

Class E: up to ten years in prison. Examples include:

  • First-degree assault and battery
  • Third-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC)
  • Grand larceny $10,000 or more

Class F: up to five years in prison. Examples include:

  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Shoplifting $2000-$10,000
  • Breaking into motor vehicles

There are also many felonies in SC that don’t fall within one of the above classifications including:

  • Murder
  • Burglary 1st degree
  • Homicide by child abuse

The penalties for these and other SC felonies that don’t fit in the classifications are found in the text of the criminal statutes that define each crime.

Criminal Defense Attorney in Conway, SC

Attorney Johnny Gardner has over twenty years of trial experience defending misdemeanors and felonies in SC courtrooms.

If you have been charged with a crime or believe you are under investigation in SC, contact criminal defense Lawyer Johnny Gardner today for a free consultation to find out how we can help.


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