Criminal Law FAQs

What Is The Difference Between A Felony And Misdemeanor?

Generally, a misdemeanor is a crime that is punishable by less serious prison sentence. Specifically, in Massachusetts, a misdemeanor is a crime not punishable by a "state" prison sentence. On the federal level, a misdemeanor is a crime that is punishable by a prison sentence of a year or less.

Conversely, felonies are more serious criminal offenses. In Massachusetts, a felony is a crime punishable by a state prison sentence, even if one is not ordered. Under federal law, felonies encompass criminal offenses punishable by over one year in prison.

If I Have Been Arrested, What Are My Rights?

If you have been arrested for a criminal offense, you have several rights guaranteed to you, including:

  • The right to remain silent — The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents the police from compelling you to divulge evidence against you. Consequently, you are not required to give a statement or confession proving you committed a crime.
  • The right to an attorney — You have the right to have an attorney present during police questioning and during your trial. Once you have indicated that you would like to speak to an attorney, all questioning of you must stop until he or she is present.
  • The right to know the crime that you have been charged with.

It is important to realize that many of your constitutional rights can be waived. In order to prevent this from inadvertently occurring, make sure that you read any document carefully before signing and have a criminal defense attorney present.

Do The Police Need A Warrant To Search Me Or My Property?

Not necessarily. Although the police generally need a warrant to search your person, vehicle or premises, there are several instances where a legal search can be carried out without a warrant such as:

  • If the police have a reasonable suspicion that you are carrying a weapon
  • If you consent to the search
  • If the search occurs immediately following an arrest
  • If the search occurred following a traffic stop — generally, if the police has probable cause that you are involved in a crime, they may search your vehicle
  • If the officer sees contraband in plain view (i.e. visible to anyone), they may conduct a search and seize the contraband

Unless an exception applies, if the police search you or your property improperly without a warrant, any evidence found against you is inadmissible in court, which may lead to a dismissal of the charges against you.

If The Victim Decides Not To Go To Court Or Continue The Case, Will The Charges Be Dropped?

Maybe. In criminal cases, the decision to prosecute rests with the state or federal government, not the victim of the alleged crime. If the alleged victim of the crime no longer wishes to testify or participate in the case, it may be enough to convince the prosecutor to drop the charges. However, this is unlikely if there are other witnesses or evidence against the accused.

If I Am Charged With A Crime, Do I Need A Lawyer?

Simply put, the answer is a resounding yes. In addition to the immediate and future loss of your liberties and legal rights, a criminal conviction can affect you for the rest of your life, making it much more difficult to land a job, qualify for government benefits, have unrestricted driving privileges or qualify for housing. Because of what is at stake, it is imperative to have an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure that the negative effects of the criminal charges against you are minimized.

For over 25 years, attorney Janis Stanziani has helped clients throughout Boston, including Wakefield, Saugus and Salem, as well as Norfolk and Barnstable Counties charged with federal and state misdemeanors and felonies secure the best possible outcomes in their cases. Contact our Lynnfield office at 781-469-0824 or by email for a free initial consultation.