What’s the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?


What’s the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

Any criminal charge, whether minor or major, should be taken seriously. But some are objectively worse than others. There are three main types of criminal classifications in the criminal justice system: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Infractions are mostly understood and tend to apply to minor traffic violations. The lines between misdemeanors and felonies, however, can often be blurred, making both of them harder to understand. Here’s what you need to know about these two types of charges.

What’s a Misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is a charge that carries penalty of less than a year in jail. Usually, the crime does not include any violence. Jail time for misdemeanors tends to be served in county or local jail instead of a state or federal prison. Examples of misdemeanors include things like minor theft, driving with a suspended license, DUI in some cases, and minor drug charges. Any misdemeanor can be charged as a felony if injury or death occur or if it was done in a violent manner. For instance, a DUI that results in a death could be charged as a felony. Multiple misdemeanors charged at one time or in short succession can also lead to felony-like punishments.

What’s a Felony?

Felonies are the most serious type of crime. Usually, felonies involve an element of violence. They are punishable by lengthy prison sentences and hefty fines. You’ll likely serve a prison sentence related to a felony in a state or federal prison. For example, rape, murder, grand theft, and arson are all felonies. Usually, a grand jury indictment is necessary in order to charge someone with a felony crime.

Ambiguity in the System

Misdemeanor and felonies seem clearly defined, but in actuality there are many ambiguities in the law. Prosecutors can decide how to file a charge based on the circumstances of the case. Aggravating circumstances (those that make your situation worse) and mitigating circumstances (those that make it better) are also considered and can play a factor in how you’re charged. State laws can differ, as well, meaning that the same exact crime can be charged as a misdemeanor in one state and a felony in another.

Importance of Legal Defense

Just because a misdemeanor is a less serious crime doesn’t mean that it’s not serious. It also doesn’t mean you should take the charge lightly. Felony charges don’t have to be death sentences or the end of the world, but you can only defend yourself adequately if you have the appropriate legal defense. A qualified, experienced criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the system, compile a compelling defense, and obtain the best results for you.

Never go it alone in the court system. Laws are written to be intentionally ambiguous and confusing to the average person. Only a qualified attorney can help you successfully obtain the best possible outcome for you. Hiring a criminal defense attorney isn’t just for the accused. Even if you’ve been convicted, a criminal defense attorney can help you craft an appeal. Get started today and get on the road to protecting your rights and your freedom.


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