Legal Guide

The Difference Between a Felony and Misdemeanor

Felonies are the most serious types of crimes you can commit and will typically result in large fines and long prison sentences. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies. Misdemeanors can involve some jail time and smaller fines, but these are usually only temporary punishments. Crimes can be escalated to felonies based on different actions. For example, if you get a DUI and are only slightly above the limit, this is a misdemeanor, but if you have children in the car, it would be considered a felony. 

Types of Crimes

Many criminal systems will divide crimes into different categories depending on how serious the crime is. The main categories are infractions, felonies, and misdemeanors. Within these categories, there could also be other classes or levels. The categories are determined by the amount of prison time that is possible. It’s best to know how the court system treats a certain case in order to know more about the differences. 


Infractions are the least serious type of crime. An infraction is a violation of a law, ordinance, or rule and doesn’t usually result in any jail time. You also won’t have a criminal record with an infraction. Payment of a fine will be the only punishment. Federal law does classify an infraction as any crime with a jail sentence of no more than five days. An example of an infraction is a traffic ticket, but offenses such as disturbing the peace, littering, and trespassing can be considered infractions. With an infraction, a police officer usually sees someone doing something wrong and writes a ticket. There is usually no time in court, but infractions can turn into more serious offenses if the fine is left unpaid or unaddressed. Infractions may have different classes and there is usually an increasing range of fines for different classes within the category. 


Misdemeanors are the next step up from infractions. In most states and with federal law, misdemeanors are offenses that carry a jail term of one year or less. Sometimes a misdemeanor is just defined as a crime that isn’t an infraction or a felony. Similar to infractions being sorted into classes, misdemeanors are as well. The classes are sorted by the maximum prison sentence for the offense. A Class A misdemeanor is more than six months but less than a year. A Class B misdemeanor is more than 30 days but less than six months. A Class C misdemeanor is more than five days but less than 30 days. For a misdemeanor, jail time is done in a county jail. Prosecutors have a lot of flexibility in deciding how to punish these crimes, what crimes to charge, and which plea bargains to negotiate. Some common misdemeanors include DUI, domestic violence, shoplifting, and vandalism. 


A felony is the most serious crime that can be committed. However, the term is not the same throughout the United States. Under federal law, a felony is a crime that comes with a punishment of more than a year. Some states are less strict. For example, New Jersey and Maine don’t classify any criminal offenses. A sentence of more than one year that is going to be served in federal or state prison is considered a felony. Just like with misdemeanors, federal law does break down classifications for felonies and uses the sentencing guides as the class. A Class A felony is the death penalty or life in prison. A Class B felony is more than 25 years. A Class C felony is more than 10 years but less than 25 years. A Class D felony is more than five years, but less than 10 years and a Class E felony is more than one year and less than five years. 

With a felony, punishments can be severe, the criminal procedures need to be observed, and the defendant’s rights need to be protected. Many felonies are usually crimes that are viewed badly by society, such as burglary, kidnapping, arson, rape, and murder. Felonies are punished in different ways and the punishment will usually match the severity of the crime. 

No Matter Your Charge, Speak with an Attorney

Regardless of whether you have committed a misdemeanor or a felony, you should speak with an attorney such as Attorney Dan Carman. Both felonies and misdemeanors can mean job loss, stress, fines, and jail time. With competent legal counsel, you can make sure that you understand your defense and get an outcome that minimizes your risk in order to move forward.  

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