Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Misdemeanors, Felonies and Common Law Crimes in Florida

Those who do not practice criminal law in the courts of Florida are often confused as to the differences in severity between misdemeanors and felonies, and between differing severity classes within those categories. Very few people understand what a common law crime under Florida law is. A good number of people who read this blog have told me that they do not fully understand the various classes of criminal offenses and how they differ, e.g., the difference in potential punishment between a third degree felony and a first degree felony. This post is meant to serve as a primer on the classes of offenses under Florida law.

In Florida, almost all criminal offenses are divided by severity into the two broad categories of misdemeanors and felonies. A third, very small, category is that of common law crimes which have attributes of each of the other two categories. County courts have original jurisdiction in all misdemeanor cases not cognizable by the circuit courts.[1] Circuit courts have jurisdiction, inter alia, of all felonies and of all misdemeanors arising out of the same circumstances as a felony which is also charged.[2] The circuit court also has original jurisdiction in all cases relating to juveniles except traffic offenses as provided in chapters 316 (State Uniform Traffic Control) and 985 (Delinquency), Florida Statutes, and exclusive original jurisdiction of proceedings in which a child is alleged to have committed a delinquent act or violation of law.[3] Juvenile cases are, however, processed separately from adult cases.[4] The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure and Rules of Evidence apply uniformly to both classes of offenses.