TILEM & CAMPBELL Defines Basic Legal Terms – Part I (Felony and Misdemeanor)

Learning New York Criminal Law is often similar to learning a different language. Every legal term often has a very specific legal definition and sometimes that language can even differ from County to County. Here at the New York Criminal Defense Law Firm of Tilem & Campbell part of our mission is to help our clients understand exactly what they are facing and how the legal system works. That often means giving definitions of legal terms that lawyers, judges and other legal professionals take for granted. Our mission also requires us to know this different terminology and how it’s used in the many different Courthouses around the State.

Here at the Tilem & Campbell we are truly a New York State law firm. With two former prosecutors, Peter Tilem who spent ten years at the New York County District Attorney’s Office and Jean Melino who was an assistant district attorney in the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office and in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, we handle cases literally throughout the state. Attorneys at this firm have appeared from Manhattan to Suffolk, Westchester to Albany, Brooklyn to Buffalo and most places in between. That experience means that our lawyers understand the legal terms as they are used throughout the State and are in a position to explain those terms to our clients.

This article is the first of a several part series in which I will define basic legal terms that our clients and others charged with a crime need to understand. Today, I will start with two very basic terms and define them is easy to understand terms. Where terms that I define in this series, have different meanings in different Courthouses I will explain that as well.


In New York a felony is the most serious type of crime for which an accused person faces more than one year in prison. Felonies are broken up by classes from class “E” being the least serious felony and a class “A” being the most serious. A class “E” felony in New York carries a maximum penalty of up to Four Years in prison and a class “A” felony carries a maximum sentence of Life. These are maximum penalties and it still possible to get a local jail sentence or even a non-jail sentence for many felonies.
It is important to remember that a conviction for a felony in New York has several long-lasting effects such as a permanent criminal record, enhanced penalties for future felony charges, the loss of certain civil liberties such as the right to vote and hold certain jobs and possible immigration consequences if you are not a citizen.


In New York a misdemeanor is the least serious type of crime broken down into two classes, class “A” and Class “B” misdemeanors. In addition certain misdemeanors that are defined outside the Penal Law such as the Vehicle & Traffic Law are called “unclassified misdemeanors. A misdemeanor is a crime for which an accused faces one year in jail or less. The maximum penalty for a class “A” misdemeanor is one year in jail and the maximum term for a class “B” misdemeanor is ninety days in jail.

Remember! Even though misdemeanors are less serious they are still crimes and whether class “A” or “B” still carry long-lasting consequences including a permanent criminal record, possible immigration consequences if you are not a citizen and the conviction for certain misdemeanors can elevate certain misdemeanor crimes to felonies. For example, a conviction for DWI can cause a second DWI to be charged as a felony.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and the information contained in this article should not be considered a substitute for the advice from an experienced New York Law Firm such as Tilem & Campbell.

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