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Felonies, Misdemeanors, and Infractions in New York

In New York, a crime occurs when a person violates the laws in the New York State Penal Code. And just as in some other states, criminal offenses are grouped into three classes as infractions or violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. Each of these classes represents the gravity of the offense and attracts a corresponding degree of punishment as spelt out in the State Penal Code. Summarily, New York crimes are tried on the basis of these categories.

What is a felony in New York?

According to the New York Courts and Justice System, a felony is any crime that warrants nothing less than a jail term, or even a death sentence. Felonies are the most serious offenses in New York. If a person is found guilty of any of the offenses in this category, he or she stands to be sentenced to at least one-year imprisonment. However, the judge can sentence such a person to lesser jail term with the option of probation for the rest of the time. Murder is a typical example of a felony which can attract as much as life imprisonment without parole.

In New York, felony crimes are not equal. They differ in degree of severity and carry a corresponding level of punishment. This explains the reason for the classification of felonies from class A1 to class E felony offenses. Apart from the level of seriousness of the offense, an offender’s criminal record also determines the length of jail term for felony offenses. A felon (repeat offender) with a record of two or more felony crimes committed in the past, can be sentenced to life imprisonment because of his or her consistency in committing felony crimes. Whereas a first offender may be charged with a less severe sentence for the same offense. Also, the time interval between a felony committed in the past and the current one committed by the same person, can influence the minimum sentence he or she receives.

Imprisonment is however not the only punishment for felonies. According to the State penal code, felony crimes may attract restitution or reparation (NYPC §60.27),, fines (NYPC §80.00 (1–7), and probation (NYPC §65.00) after the defendant must have met certain required conditions.

Felonies are broadly grouped into two categories in New York: violent and non-violent felonies. There is no specific formula for tagging whether a felony is violent or not in the New York State Penal Code. However, violent felonies are generally regarded as crimes committed to physically harm another person. While non- violent crimes do not involve human beings directly (properties). The punishments for violent felonies are pegged to a fixed amount of time e.g 5 years, while the punishment for non-violent felony convictions are fixed within a range (e.g 3–5 years).

Felonies are further classified into different categories according to the New York State Penal Law §70.02)

  • Class A Felonies (I or II): The most serious crimes such as arson in the first degree, aggravated murder, and criminal use of chemical or biological weapons. These are punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without parole, except it is drug related (NYPC §220.21). In which case, a felon may be charged a fine up to $100,000 and a long jail term of 10 years (NYPC §80.00 (1c i & ii).
  • Class B Felonies: These include first degree criminal sale of firearms, first degree gang assault, armed robbery, rape, and attempted homicide. They attract a maximum sentence of 25 years imprisonment or up to $30,000 fine (NYPC §80.00 (1ciii).
  • Class C Felonies attract at most 15 years jail term or $15,000 fine (NYPC §80.00 (1civ). Examples are second degree criminal use of firearms, fraud, types of theft and assaults.
  • Class D Felonies attract a jail term of at most 7 years. Reckless assault of a child and support act of terrorism are examples of Class D felonies.
  • Class E Felonies. These include second degree false reporting of incident and persistent sexual abuse. Class E felonies attract at most 4 years jail term

What are some examples of felonies in New York?

Typical examples of crimes tagged as felonies in New York include:

  • Murder
  • Arson (1st and 2nd degrees)
  • Illegal sale of firearms
  • Raunchy activities with a child
  • Criminal use of firearms
  • Criminal possession of chemical or biological weapon
  • Rape
  • Manslaughter
  • Kidnapping
  • Robbery
  • Theft
  • Fraud
  • False Witnessing/reporting of incident
  • Perjury (1st degree)
  • Incest
  • Gang assault

Can I get a felony removed from a court record in New York?

There is no provision for the removal or expungement of felony offense from the court records in New York. Actually, a criminal record cannot be expunged in the state, except for a few marijuana cases. However, the system makes provision for sealing which means that the record still exists but it cannot be accessed by the general public.

Therefore, when a defendant applies for his or her criminal record to be sealed, all physical evidence of the crime is either destroyed by the state or returned to the owner. Further still, the state authorises restrictions to be placed on its visibility in form of sealing, so that only law enforcement agencies can have access to it.

Is expungement the same as sealing court records in New York?

Expungements are not the same as sealing criminal records in New York. In fact, it is only marijuana related crimes that are considered for expungement, in which case the records are destroyed or erased. Other crimes are not eligible for expungement but sealing. The few people who can have access to sealed records include the defendant, the parole officer (if on probation) and the law enforcement agents involved in the case.

According to the state Penal Code, there are certain conditions under which a defendant can apply for criminal records to be sealed from public access. These are:

  • If defendants do not have more than two misdemeanors, or, not more than one felony and one misdemeanor conviction in the record. In addition to these, no fresh crime has been committed by the defendant in the past 10 years.
  • When the applicant has successfully completed a drug-related rehabilitation programme.

Furthermore, when children commit crimes or when the defendant gets a good result also known as favourable disposition from a case. For instance, acquittal, dismissal or the Habeas corpus appeal. Such cases are eligible for automatic sealing by the state. However, there are some convictions that are not eligible for sealing, they include:

  • Sexual misconduct
  • Manslaughter
  • Rape
  • 2nd degree robbery
  • Arson (CPL §160.59)

What are misdemeanors in New York?

Misdemeanors are crimes that are not as serious as felonies but they also attract a punishment of, at most 1 year (364 days) imprisonment with or without fine, or 3 years of probation as stipulated in the state penal code. Unlike some other states, the state of New York divides misdemeanors into 3 groups; namely,

  • Class A Misdemeanors can attract a jail term of 1 year and/or fine of $1,000 or 3 years of probation. Making graffiti is an example of Class A misdemeanors (NY State Penal code 145.60)
  • Class B Misdemeanors can attract a jail term of 3 months with or without a fine of $500 or 1 of year probation. DWI is an example of Class B misdemeanors.
  • Unclassified Misdemeanors are offences that are not defined in the Penal law but their punishment exceeds 15 days imprisonment but not more than 1 year.

What are some examples of misdemeanors in New York?

Misdemeanors vary slightly from state to state. While an offense can be termed a felony in a state, it can be a misdemeanor in another. Examples of misdemeanors in the state of New York are:

  • Prostitution
  • Theft
  • Shoplifting
  • Driving while impaired or intoxicated
  • Vandalism
  • Simple assault
  • Making graffiti
  • Public consumption of alcohol

Can I get a misdemeanor removed from a record in New York?

As stated earlier on, the state of New York does not authorise the expungement of criminal records. Therefore, misdemeanor convictions can have serious damaging effects on the offender in some situations. This means that the record of a defendant’s misdemeanor conviction remains permanent. The only provision made by the state as regards criminal records is the option of sealing. This means that criminal records can only be hidden from public view. It does not mean that such records stop to exist or that some people or agencies such as immigration or other federal agencies cannot access it.

As far as the state of New York is concerned, it is only DNA related evidence that qualifies for expungement on a criminal record, while other crimes such as misdemeanors are not eligible for erasure from one’s criminal records. The absence of a mechanism for the expungement of criminal record forces an individual to answer appropriately when asked if they had committed a particular crime before. Unlike in some other states where such an individual can choose to answer “No” when such a question is asked, despite having committed the crime before.

Can a DUI be expunged in New York?

DUI (Driving under influence), also known as driving while impaired or intoxicated in the state of New York, does not qualify for expungement when the defendant is found guilty of the crime. However, a DWI case can be considered for expungement if any of the following two conditions have been met

  • the DWI case was dismissed; or
  • the defendant was exonerated of the DWI charges.

In the event of any of these conditions, when an individual is asked if they have been charged of DUI before, offenders whose DUI charges were dismissed or who were exonerated would be able to answer “No” to that question.

What is an infraction in New York?

Infractions are minor offences against the established laws of the state. New York state penal code refers to them as violations. They are minor offences because they are not as serious as misdemeanors. Therefore, infractions are petty violations of laws and are mostly traffic related. As such, infractions are not crimes per se as they do not attract the kind of penalties that misdemeanor and felony convictions attract. According to the New York Penal Code §155, traffic infractions are not in any way considered crimes, and the penalties for them are not considered penal or criminal. Therefore, the punishments do not affect the criminal record of the convicted individual.

While infractions attract fines in some other states and jail term is excluded, the state of New York allows for the sentence of, at most, 15 days in jail. This affects offenders who are guilty of infractions with or without fine, if they fail to follow the steps spelt out by law on how such infraction charges can be resolved. In other words, the New York State Penal Code allows for infractions to become misdemeanors or even felonies if perpetrators fail to follow the specified procedures for solving them as by law.

What are some examples of infractions in New York?

Here are some of the examples of infractions in the state of New York.

  • Trespassing
  • Unlawful posting of advertisements
  • Unlawful possession of marijuana
  • Loitering
  • Loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution
  • Appearing in public under the influence of drugs or a drug (except alcohol)
  • Offensive exhibition
  • Failure to honour appearance ticket
  • Harassment in the second degree
  • Disorderly conduct

The state of New York recognises infractions that are traffic or vehicle related. Some of the examples include:

  • Reckless driving
  • Failure to stop for school bus
  • Tailgating
  • Failure to yield right-of-way
  • Disobeying traffic control signal
  • Railroad crossing
  • Improper use of cell phone

Can infractions be expunged from a New York Criminal Court Record?

Infractions and some other violations are automatically expunged from the New York criminal record without going through any processes. Traffic infractions, as well as violations such as charges on disorderly conduct, do not go into an offender’s criminal records in New York. This differentiates the state from some other states such as California, which makes no provision for the expungement of infraction conviction, except on the basis of dismissal of case.

Since the state does not consider infractions penal or criminal, they are not allowed to go into records as they are expunged automatically when the punishments alloted the offenders have been served.

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