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Felonies, Misdemeanors and Infractions in Georgia

A crime is a violation of a law or statute of a government. Based on the nature and severity of the offense, crimes in Georgia can be divided into three broad types; felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions. Felonies are the most severe legal offenses, followed by misdemeanors which are less severe and infractions which are minor offences. Each type has particularly serious, serious, and less serious punishments respectively, as provided by the Georgia criminal code. Summarily, Georgia crimes are tried on the basis of the aforementioned categories.

What is a Felony in Georgia?

The Georgia legislature classifies felonies as the most serious crimes in the state. These crimes are punishable by a minimum of one year imprisonment as opposed to misdemeanors and infractions. In addition, most of the crimes under the “serious violent felony” category have the minimum penalty of 25 years imprisonment and a maximum penalty of a death sentence. Punishment may also include probation, fines not less than $1,000, or other mandatory sanctions imposed at the discretion of the judge GA Code § 17–10–6.1 (2018).

Categories of Felonies in Georgia

Unlike many states, Georgia does not categorize crimes by class or degrees. Instead, specific punishments are assigned on a crime-by-crime basis to allow for flexibility in sentencing. Therefore, Georgia courts determine sentences for felonies based on the nature of the crime and crime severity levels. Other unique factors surrounding the crime that may be used to determine sentences include prior records, mitigating circumstances, psychology, age, consequences of the act, and so on.

These factors can increase or reduce the sentence of a convicted felon. For instance, instead of a prison sentence, someone who has been proven to have a mental condition can be sent to a mental facility while first time juveniles may have reduced or split sentences.

What are Some Examples of Felonies in Georgia?

Some examples of crimes that are classified as serious violent felonies in Georgia include:

  • Aggravated sexual battery (GA. Code. § 16–6–22.2)
  • Rape (GA. Code. § 16–6–1)
  • Aggravated child molestation (GA. Code. § 16–6–4)
  • Armed robbery (GA. Code. § 16–8–41)
  • Murder or felony murder (GA. Code. § 16–5–1)
  • Kidnapping (GA. Code. § 16–5–40)

Some examples of other felonies are:

  • Possession of marijuana for use (more than 1 ounce)
  • Possession of weapons of mass destruction
  • Invasion of privacy
  • Aggravated assault/ battery
  • Home invasion/ robbery
  • Arson (first, second, and third degree)

The Georgia Wobbler law allows some crime to “wobble”. That is, there are some crimes in Georgia that can be categorized as felonies or misdemeanors based on the circumstances surrounding the case. With this law, a judge can impose a misdemeanor sentence for a felony which has a sentence for ten years imprisonment or less (GA. Code. § 17–10–5).. It can also lead to increased sentences for misdemeanors. Examples of Wobbler crimes include grand theft, obscenity, stalking, identity fraud, trespass, vandalism, forgery and fraudulent practices, and so on.

Can I Get a Felony Removed From a Court Record in Georgia?

Yes, records of felonies can be removed, restricted, expunged, or sealed from public view depending on the nature of the crime and certain other circumstances. Individuals who were arrested but found not guilty or persons who had their felony charges dismissed are generally eligible for record restriction. Exemptions to this include:

  • If the individual pled guilty to the charge or another charge of the same case.
  • If the individual was involved in a pattern of criminal activity in another state or jurisdiction.
  • If the prosecution had suppressed important evidence against the individual.
  • If the charge had been dismissed based on some form of immunity.

On the other hand, individuals who are convicted of felony charges cannot remove a record from a Georgia record regardless of the time passed or even if they get pardoned for the crime. Exceptions are certain youthful offenders of less-serious felonies (under 21 years old) and first-time offenders of some crimes like drug possession (GA. Code.§ 16–13–2).. These persons can qualify for record restriction after serving their sentences and fulfilling other conditions (GA. Code. § 35–3–37)..

Eligible individuals can submit a petition to the court where they were charged or convicted and hearings must be held within 90 days from the day the petition was filed. Once a court order for expungement is given, the court clerk and law enforcement agencies shall restrict the record information 60 days of the order.

Is Expungement the Same as Sealing Court Records in Georgia?

Yes, expungement, records restriction, and sealing of records are basically the same thing in Georgia. Once a record is restricted in Georgia, it is protected from public view to an extent. This means that while private individuals and businesses cannot find expunged records when conducting criminal records search, law enforcement agents and prosecutors can view the records, as permitted by law (GA. Code.§ 35–3–34)..

However, these restricted or expunged records are still considered public and can be accessed by private persons with the right credentials. For example, the fingerprints and signed approvals of the formerly convicted individual.

Note: People with expunged records in Georgia are permitted by law to deny having a criminal record.

How Long Does a Felony Stay on Your Record in Georgia?

Records of cases that were never referred for prosecution are automatically restricted after a specified period. For instance, youthful felonies take four years while violent and sex-related felonies take seven years (GA. Code.§ 35–3–37)..

Apart from these scenarios, it is not safe to assume that a felony will be automatically removed from a record. Individuals who have been convicted of committing a felony will have the offense on their records forever unless they petition the court for the expungement of the record and the court grants the requests.

What is a Misdemeanor in Georgia?

Misdemeanors are less-serious criminal acts and have less severe punishments compared to felonies. However, they are more serious than infractions and carry more serious penalties in this case. Depending on the offense, penalties for misdemeanors can range from fines to probations, to jail-term of not more than one year as defined under the Georgia criminal code. The penalties for a misdemeanor conviction may differ based on the nature of the crime, prior records, severity of the crime, and other mitigating or aggravating circumstances surrounding the crime.

Categories of Misdemeanors in Georgia

Misdemeanors in Georgia are broadly categorized into two, namely:

Misdemeanors: This is the common or standard type of misdemeanors that cause little damages and may not be violent in nature. Jail terms do not exceed 12 months and fines do not exceed $1,000, suspension of licenses may even be done (GA. Code. § 17–10–3).. The judge can split sentences and may even decide how and where the penalties will be served.

Misdemeanors of a high and aggravated nature: While these crimes also have the potential of a one-year sentence, misdemeanors of a high and aggravated nature tend to be more violent or have more consequence in terms of physical or financial damages. Repeated misdemeanors are also classified under this category. Therefore, the fine limit is usually higher but may not exceed $5,000 (GA. Code. § 17–10–4).. The judge can also decide to split, modify, suspend, amend, alter, or probate sentences as long as the penalties do not exceed the maximum sentence of 12 months.

What are Some Examples of Misdemeanors in Georgia?

Examples of misdemeanors in Georgia include:

  • Certain DUI offenses
  • Domestic violence
  • Falsifying documents
  • Reckless conduct
  • Shoplifting
  • Simple assault/battery
  • Trespassing
  • Unlawful hunting of game
  • Vandalism

Also remember that the Georgia Wobbler law can classify some misdemeanors as felonies which can therefore increase the penalties. For instance, particularly violent misdemeanors can be classified as felonies. The same applies to repeated offenders of certain misdemeanors who can get a felony sentence after the third offense.

Can I Get a Misdemeanor Removed from a Record in Georgia?

Yes, a misdemeanor arrest or court record can be removed in Georgia. In most cases, misdemeanor charges that were dismissed or found not guilty can be automatically removed from the record after two years of non-referral for prosecution. The same thing applies to cases that have been suspended (dead dockets) for more than a year.

Eligibility to Restrict Records in Georgia

Persons arrested (but not charged or convicted) for committing a misdemeanor can apply for restriction of record from the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC). While persons who committed misdemeanors before the age of 21 can petition for expungement from the courts where they were charged or convicted on the following conditions:

  • They did not commit serious traffic offenses, theft, violent or sex related crimes.
  • They were charged of felony but convicted of a non-related misdemeanor
  • They completed sentence and any mandatory counseling or rehab program
  • They did not commit any crimes during the five-year waiting period

Others who do not fall into these categories are not qualified to apply for record restriction.

The Record Restriction Process in Georgia

The record restriction process in Georgia depends on when the arrest took place and how the case was resolved. Arrests before July 2013 may involve submitting a form that has been filled and signed by the former convict, prosecutors, and the arresting agency. This form will then be submitted to the GCIC and pay some fees after which the requested will be processed and granted if deemed worthy.

However, restriction of arrest records after July 2013 may be done by the prosecutor at the sentencing. Interested and eligible persons can also file a petition for expunction in the court where they were charged or convicted after five years of completing the sentence.

Can a DUI be Expunged in Georgia?

Yes, a DUI offense can be expunged if the charge is dismissed or the case is found not-guilty. In this case, the offender can qualify for record restriction in Georgia. However, individuals convicted of a DUI can get the record restricted.

Moreover, there is also a 10-year lookback period for DUIs which means that any other violations done within this period will bring about more severe punishments. For instance, a first DUI offense may make the offender lose points while another within the lookback period will bring heavy fines or imprisonment.

People often mistake this time for a waiting period to restrict records but the DUI lookback period does not mean that the one can file for record restriction after this period has elapsed.

What Constitutes an Infraction in Georgia?

An infraction is a petty offense of less gravity or seriousness than misdemeanors and felonies. Infractions are basically non-criminal violations of a law, statute, code or registration created by a government body. Penalties of infractions in Georgia do not require prison time and are basically in the form of citations and fines, with few other warnings or sanctions, which is decided by the public body. Most people usually pay the fine but it is possible to dispute infraction charges in a court whether in person or through a legal representative.

On their own, infractions are not criminal offenses and are too common or minor to negatively influence the professional or personal life of an individual. However, in Georgia, some infractions can lead to misdemeanors especially in relations to traffic offenses. In this case, the infraction may be recorded and linked to the more serious crime.

What are Some Examples of Infractions in Georgia?

Unlike many states, Georgia classifies most traffic violations as misdemeanors. The same goes for some minor offenses like failing to lease a pet. However, some common infractions in the state includes:

  • Certain traffic infractions like broken headlights, illegal U-turn, wrongful parking, and running a red-light
  • Littering
  • Civil infractions like noise making or disturbance of peace
  • Violating seatbelt laws
  • Attempting to drink alcohol under the age of 21
  • Underage clubbing
  • Campsite or park violations

Can Infractions be Expunged from a Georgia Criminal Court Record?

Infractions are non-criminal offenses and are therefore not recorded in a criminal court in Georgia except if it leads to another misdemeanor. For instance, if a driver is pulled over for having a broken headlight and is discovered to be in possession of drugs.

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