If you have been charged with a crime in Georgia, it is important to understand the penalties that are on the table. While Georgia law establishes two classes of misdemeanors each with a specified range of penalties, it assigns penalties for felonies on a crime-by-crime basis. This makes identifying the potential penalties in your case a bit more challenging, and you will need to speak with a criminal defense lawyer in order to make sure that you know exactly what is at stake if your case goes to trial.
In this article, we will outline Georgia’s statutory penalties for “standard” misdemeanors and misdemeanors “of a high and aggravated nature,” and we will list the penalties for some of the more-common felony charges under Georgia law. We will also discuss the ancillary penalties that apply in certain types of cases, and we will highlight some of the collateral consequences you may face regardless of the specific sentence you receive at trial.
1. Misdemeanor Penalties Under Georgia Law
As a general rule, the dividing line between a misdemeanor and a felony is 12 months of incarceration. Misdemeanors can carry up to 12 months of jail time, while a felony conviction carries the risk of more than a year (and, for many offenses, multiple years) of incarceration in a state penitentiary.
Unlike many other states, in Georgia, all misdemeanors carry the potential for up to 12 months of jail time. The law distinguishes between “misdemeanors” and “misdemeanors of a high and aggravated nature,” with the primary difference – in terms of sentencing – being the maximum fine:
- Penalties for Georgia Misdemeanors – Up to 12 months in jail or a diversion center and a $1,000 fine (C.G.A. § 17-10-3).
- Penalties for Georgia Misdemeanors of a High and Aggravated Nature – Up to 12 months in jail and a $5,000 fine (C.G.A. § 17-10-4).
Importantly, both types of misdemeanors are potentially eligible for probation and suspended sentences depending upon the circumstances involved.
Which crimes are classified as misdemeanors of a high and aggravated nature? There isn’t a list. Instead, repeat offenders will often be charged with misdemeanors of a high and aggravated nature, and certain other circumstances (such as committing battery against a family member, senior, or woman who is pregnant) can elevate the risks of criminal prosecution for a misdemeanor-level offense as well. Additionally, certain offenses (such as aggressive driving) will be charged as misdemeanors of a high and aggravated nature regardless of the defendant’s criminal history or the factual circumstances at hand.
2. Examples of Felony Sentences Under Georgia Law
In Georgia, felony penalties range from one year in prison to the death penalty, with the specific sentencing ranges varying for individual offenses. Examples of felony sentencing ranges in Georgia include:
- Aggravated assault – One to 20 years in prison (with minimum sentences of three and five years for assaults against the elderly and peace officers, respectively) (C.G.A. § 16-5-21).
- Aggravated battery – One to 20 years in prison (with added fines and minimum sentences of three and five years for battery committed against the elderly and peace officers, respectively) (C.G.A. § 16-5-24).
- Marijuana possession for personal use (more than one ounce) or possession with intent to distribute (10 pounds or less) – One to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine (C.G.A. § 16-13-30).
- Rape – Death, life imprisonment without parole, life imprisonment, or at least 25 years of imprisonment followed by probation for life (C.G.A. § 16-6-1).
- Robbery – One to 20 years in prison (with a minimum sentence of five years for robbery of a person 65 years of age or older) (C.G.A. § 16-8-40).
3. Ancillary Penalties for Certain Criminal Offenses in Georgia
In addition to fines, probation, and jail or prison time, individuals convicted of certain crimes in Georgia can face ancillary penalties as well. Examples of these penalties include:
- Asset Forfeiture – Crimes involving theft and other means of profiting from illegal activity (such as selling drugs) can result in forfeiture of the proceeds of the illegal activity (including any assets purchased with illegally-obtained funds).
- Loss of Driving Privileges – Traffic offenses, DUIs, and various other offenses can result in temporary or permanent loss of driving privileges in Georgia.
- Restitution – For certain types of crimes, the sentence can include payment of restitution to the victim (in addition to any applicable fines).
- Sex Offender Registration – Individuals convicted of most types of sex crimes must register as a sex offender in Georgia. In addition to having their name listed in the public registry, registered sex offenders are also prohibited from residing within 1,000 feet of childcare facilities, schools, churches, and other places “where minors congregate,” and they are prohibited from working at these facilities and any other businesses located within 1,000 feet of a childcare facility, school, or church.
- Special Terms of Probation for Drugs – For certain types of drug crimes, the sentence can include special conditions of probation (such as substance abuse evaluation and treatment, random drug testing, and community service) that are not applicable to convictions for non-drug-related offenses.
4. Collateral Consequences of Having a Criminal Record in Georgia
Regardless of the crime for which you are convicted, having a criminal record can impact your life in ways far beyond the sentence you receive at trial. For many people, the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction will include:
- Difficulty finding housing
- Difficulty obtaining credit or a loan
- Difficulty finding a job (or termination of employment)
- Difficulty getting into college (or expulsion from school)
- Ineligibility for federal student loans and other forms of financial aid
- Loss of voting rights
- Loss of the right to own firearms
Furthermore, since Georgia criminal records are not eligible for expungement, unless you successfully petition to have your record “restricted,” your conviction will show up on background searches indefinitely. Not all convictions are eligible for record restriction; and, even if you obtain a record restriction, your conviction will still continue to play an active role in your life.
Speak with a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Augusta, GA
If you have been charged with a crime in Georgia, it is important that you speak with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. To schedule a confidential initial consultation with an attorney at our law offices in Augusta, GA, call us at 706-200-1578 or request an appointment online now.