You might have been charged with a misdemeanor or someone you know has been charged with a felony and you are now left to wonder as to what really is the difference between the two. Is there even a difference between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?
Perhaps, some judges just have different preferences as to what to call certain charges. Maybe, they are just having difficulties with differentiating and would just like to call it as it is. Is there even a guideline to differentiate the two?
You do not have to think any longer as we will be answering all of these for you.
Felony vs Misdemeanor (What is the Difference?)
First and foremost, a misdemeanor is different from a felony. Indeed, the judges who charge you or your friend this do not only want to make it sound cool or something.
It is actually a technicality that they must abide by in order to make their own lives, as well as the others, easier. Simply speaking, a misdemeanor is actually also a crime.
However, it is somewhat lighter than a felony. In reality, a felony is a crime that is very serious. Consequently, committing a felony will result in graver punishments such as long jail or prison sentences, a hefty amount of fines, or even a permanent loss of freedoms. Obviously, none that you actually want being sentenced to you.
On the other hand, the consequences for committing misdemeanors are also relatively lighter. The sentences usually involve some jail time, relatively smaller fines, and just temporary punishments. We will give you an example, let us say that you are quite having some fun during a party and got yourself intoxicated.
As such, you are too groggy, but your sorry ass decided to drive nonetheless. Obviously, this is DUI. Doing so may get you charged with a misdemeanor.
However, if you have a child on board while driving under the influence of alcohol, then this may actually get you charged for a felony.
What about the other types of crimes out there?
Yes, you are correct. There are also other different types and categories of crime out there. In fact, most criminal systems in different states across the United States of America actually further subdivide their crimes into different categories all depending on the graveness of the act of crime that has been done.
The four major categories include misdemeanors, infarctions, and felonies. It is important to note, however, that these major categories have further levels and different classes.
These categories are almost always determined regarding the amount of jail time that has been sentenced for committing such crimes. It is also very very important to keep in mind that our court system always treats every case to figure out the differences between each case.
They do follow a general rule, though. When they sit down and mull over whether to classify a misdemeanor or a felony, looking at the possible maximum time the criminal can be given basically gives away everything. This is a very important indicator to know whether or not it’s a felony.
What is an infraction?
When talking about the gravity of the crime, felonies are much graver than misdemeanors. Now, you are probably wondering where infarction belongs in this kind of range.
Well, infractions actually belong at the lowest end. Infractions are the least serious and least grave among the three. A violation of a rule, ordinance, or law can be considered an infraction.
If you are convicted for an infraction, you must prepare all your belongings and get out of the house. Nah, just kidding. Most jurisdictions do not punish infractions with jail time nor will an infraction be included in your criminal record.
During the usual cases, the person who was convicted of an infraction will only be asked to pay a fine as punishment for the committed infraction.
However, federal law still defines an infraction as a violation of law that is still punishable by jail time. Although, the jail time must not and will not exceed a maximum of five days. A very good example of this is getting a traffic ticket. Of course, other offenses are also considered infractions.
Some of these offenses include trespassing, littering, disturbing the peace of the neighborhood, and very much every other offense that they will demand you to pay upon getting caught.
Usually, this is what happens. When you are caught doing something wrong, a police officer will approach you. If you are caught in the act, then the cop will reach out for a ticket, write on it, and hand it to you.
The only choice you will have by then accepts it with tears in your eyes and blow an unnecessary hole in your pocket to pay the fine. If things are a bit worse than that, then you may actually need to go to court for a short while.
No worries, there are fewer chances of you going to jail. However, do not be too relaxed. Infractions can become bigger in the long run if you just let them sit and grow. As such, it is greatly advised that you should immediately address and pay the infraction as soon as you can.
In addition to that, infractions also have different further classes. Yeah, the legal system could be quite a pain in the neck. There are moving violations, non-moving violations, and other very petty offenses.
Of course, the law also has a set increasing range of fines, as well as other potential penalties for the different classes that fall within the infraction category.
That said, be sure to know what you are getting into since the fines vary depending on the infraction that you have committed. Actually, it is a hell of a lot better to stay put and not commit anything at all. That way, you will not need to problematize anything.
What is a misdemeanor?
Alright, so we’ve finished tackling infractions. Let us now move on to another kind of crime which is misdemeanors. If you have been reading up to this part of the article, then you would definitely already have an inkling as to what we are trying to discuss by now.
However, we would still love to reiterate everything and expound it further for your knowledge and further understanding.
Okay, so as we have said earlier, misdemeanors are actually graver than infractions but are generally less grave than felonies.
Under federal law, as well as most states in the United State, a misdemeanor is defined as a criminal offense that is viable for a potential jail term of less than one year.
That simply means that if the judge sentences you for up to eleven months and 30 days in jail, then you have only committed a misdemeanor. What if you were sentenced for more than a year, you ask? Then you will find out about it in the latter part of this article.
In addition to that, some states also define a misdemeanor as something that is not a felony or an infraction. This is what they call the rule of elimination. If this is not that thing or that thing, then this could only be this thing. That is actually pretty logical, do you not agree?
Just like everything else such as infractions, misdemeanors are also further classified into more detailed stuff. You know, the law really is both a strenuous thing and a field.
If we use the federal sentencing guidelines as a basis, the classes are actually further divided up by the maximum imprisonment for the offense.
Actually, you know what, here are the different types of misdemeanors as well as the kind of punishment that usually comes along with it.
- Class A misdemeanor – one year or less, but more than six months;
- Class B misdemeanor – six months or less, but more than thirty days; or
- Class C misdemeanor – thirty days or less, but more than five days.
If you are somehow convicted of a misdemeanor and are sentenced to serve your time in prison, you are more likely to be sent into the local county jail and not in high security, action movie-Esque optimal prison.
After all, that kind of place is reserved for the meanest and saddest people on Earth. Generally speaking, prosecutors hold great flexibility when it comes to deciding what kind of crimes are to be charged as misdemeanors.
They simply hold the hammer of justice that will come down to your sentence, regarding how to punish you, what to charge, as well as if you will be given a chance to apply for a plea to bargain or to negotiate.
What is a felony?
So we have just discussed further the infractions and the misdemeanor. We will give you a bit of an icebreaker. What do you think will we discuss next? Oh, you already know since you have read the heading?
What a bummer. Anyway, you are correct nonetheless. We will now be talking about felonies. This is definitely something that would pique your interest.
Anyway, let us start already to quell that excitement of yours. A felony is the gravest of the crimes committed. As we have said before, the least of them is the infraction, followed by the misdemeanor, and finally, felonies which are very very bad.
The usage of the term felony is actually uniform throughout all states and counties of the United States. In addition to that, the federal government defines a felony as something of a crime that is punished for at the very least more than a year. Of course, some of the states are actually less strict about that definition and give a bit more of a leeway.
For example, in Maine and New Jersey, judges and citizens do not even bother to classify criminal offenses. They simply just state that you have committed a crime and that is it. Nothing more, nothing less.
On the other hand, there are also states wherein they use the term felony, but actually do not give an exact definition behind it. It is just a term without any basis behind it.
On the other hand, it is also important to note that most states, forty-three of them specifically, use and define the term felony. They do this by referencing either the length of a sentence or the place of incarceration. There are also cases wherein both of these factors were weighed and considered.
Take Idaho for instance. In Idaho, they define a felony as a crime that is punishable by death or by imprisonment in the State prison. Contrary to that, Georgie defines a felony as a crime that is punishable by death, imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for more than 12 months or a year.
But still, just keep in mind that other states will define felony as referencing the length of the sentence, as well as where the convict will serve his sentence. Usually, this is towards not really that great places.
In usual cases, sentences that exceed more than one year that is served in a state or federal prison already constitute a felony.
On the other hand, misdemeanors are further broken down by federal law into further classifications based on prison time. Similarly, felonies are also classified based on the time that will be served in prison.
Here are the classifications:
- Class A felony – life imprisonment or the death penalty;
- Class B felony – twenty-five or more years;
- Class C felony – less than twenty-five years, but more than ten years;
- Class D felony – less than ten years, but more than five years; or
- Class E felony – less than five years, but more than one year.
It goes without saying that punishments for felonies could be severe. As such, a criminal procedure must be strictly observed so that the defendant’s rights will also remain protected. Typically, felonies are crimes that are viewed as very heinous in the eyes of society.
These kinds of crimes include murder, rape, burglary, kidnapping, as well as arson. On the other hand, felonies can also be punished in a range of ways so that a convict will be sure to suffer the same amount of punishment for the crime that he had committed. The worse the crime, the worse the punishment.
What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony in my case?
In general, criminal charges, be it a misdemeanor or felony, results in jail time, fines, job loss, and, of course, the existence of stress.
As such, having the assistance of competent and licensed legal counsel can easily help you be ensured that you best understand your defenses, as well as seek an outcome that minimizes your risk.
Robert Gomez was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. He currently lives in Northern California with “the wifey,” “the kids,” “the dog,” and “that cat,” 🙁 He is also a former journalist who has interviewed murderers on death row. Felonyfriendlyjobs.org was born to help ex-felons get a second chance in life.