What is the Difference Between Felony and Misdemeanor Charges?

What is the Difference Between Felony and Misdemeanor Charges?

Here in the United States, crimes are divided into different classifications, depending on their severity. The courts use this system to determine how individual cases should be treated. The amount of time the offender could face in jail depends largely on what category the crime fits into.

The two most important categories are misdemeanors and felonies. Although felony crimes are the most serious of the two, state laws can vary significantly. What qualifies as a felony in one state might be considered a misdemeanor in another.

Misdemeanor Offenses

Misdemeanors are offenses that are more serious than minor infractions, but less serious than felonies. In most cases, they are crimes punishable by no more than a year in jail. In many cases, the offender can serve their time in a local county jail, rather than a high security prison. Prosecutors can have great flexibility when it comes to deciding which crimes will be charged, how the offender will be punished and what types of plea bargains will be considered. Examples of misdemeanor offenses include petty theft, vandalism and reckless driving.

Felony Offenses

Felonies are more serious crimes that are typically punished by prison sentences of more than a year. Since the sentences are more severe, court room procedures are more strictly followed to ensure that the defendants’ rights are protected. Felony offenses include crimes that are looked down upon the most by society, such as burglary, rape, kidnapping and murder.

“Wobbler” Offenses

Unfortunately, there are also crimes that can fall into either category. This may depend on where the crime occurs, whether or not a weapon was involved, or even partly on the prosecutor’s discretion. The term “wobbler” isn’t really a legal term, but rather a colloquial term, due to the nature of the crime. Whether a specific crime is a wobbler or not depends on the state in which it occurs. Crimes that may qualify as wobblers in some states include spousal battery, sexual battery and assault with a deadly weapon.

Different Classes

In addition to being either misdemeanors or felonies, most states classify these two types of crimes even further. For example, one offense may be labeled a “Class A” misdemeanor, while a more serious crime might qualify as a “Class C” felony. The punishment meted out would depend on which class the offense in question falls under, which can vary from one state to another.


– Fines. Certain misdemeanors are punished through a system of fines, according to what class the crime falls into. For example, a Class A misdemeanor might lead to a fine of up to $10,000 in one state, or significantly less in another. Felonies can also result in fines, but they are typically much larger.

– Jail. While a judge may decide that a particular misdemeanor does not warrant jail time, this is almost never the case with felonies. Jail terms for misdemeanors that do require incarceration are usually for less than one or two years. A felon can get anywhere from one year to life in prison, depending on the nature of the crime.

– Three-strikes laws. Currently, 28 states have three-strikes laws. These laws are designed to keep repeat felons off the streets. For example, an offender who is charged for the third time for assault and battery could end up serving 25 years in prison, or even life.

Conviction Effects

Regardless of whether a person is convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony, they will receive a permanent mark on their record that can cost them future employment opportunities and even some of their rights (such as the right to bear arms). While misdemeanors are less likely to affect one’s rights than felonies, it may become difficult to get the required licenses for certain types of employment. This is especially true if the crime in question is related to the offender’s chosen profession.


Fortunately, it is possible to get criminal records sealed or erased, under certain circumstances. The expungement process varies from one state to another, but it’s the closest a qualifying offender might get to receiving a fresh start. It should be noted that while the process has successfully benefited both misdemeanor and felony offenders, it’s much easier to get an expungement if you are a non-violent, first-time offender with a misdemeanor offense.

Criminal charges, whether felony or misdemeanor, can create a number of difficulties in your life. Hiring an attorney is one of the best ways to reduce this negative impact, while helping you better understand the case against you and what your legal options are.

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