Crimes are divided into two categories: felonies and misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are considered to be less serious crimes than felonies. Under federal law and the laws of most states, misdemeanors are crimes punishable by less than one year in prison, while felonies are crimes punishable by at least one year in prison. This makes the consequences for a felony conviction very serious.
After being convicted of a crime, the defendant moves from trial to sentencing. During sentencing, the court will determine the punishment to be applied to the defendant. In some jurisdictions, a jury may recommend a sentence it feels is fair to its verdict. In others, the judge alone will determine the sentence, even if the guilty verdict is a result of a jury's decision.
In the federal court system and that of many states, felonies carry a minimum sentence of one year. This means that if found guilty, a defendant may spend no less than one year in prison. While those convicted of misdemeanors might spend their sentences in local jails, those convicted of felonies are usually sent to large prisons within the jurisdiction. These prisons may be far from where the prisoner and his family live, which impacts visitation. Prison conditions also are frequently harsher than conditions in municipal jails. Often, the only way to avoid this substantial length of imprisonment is to make a plea deal with prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Courts may require convicted felons to pay court fees related to the disposition of their criminal cases. Costs arise from the prosecution of the case, filings made in the case and compensation to the lawyers, judge and jury. If found guilty, a defendant may be forced to assume the responsibility for these costs. These costs are in addition to any lawyer's fees the defendant already owes.
A convicted felon may also be open to civil liability for the crime committed. For example, a victim of a violent crime may sue the perpetrator of that crime for medical bills or other expenses related to the injury. Parties in a civil trial may often use a criminal conviction as evidence to establish the defendant's liability. However, the standard of proof is more easily met in civil court, and someone may be found civilly liable even if acquitted of any criminal charges.