What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?
How do you legally define it?
What are the essential elements you should know!
In this article, we will break down the legal definition of Misdemeanor vs Felony so you know all there is to know about it!
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Table of Contents
Difference Between Misdemeanor And Felony
In general, a misdemeanor crime is of less serious nature and provides for sentences that are not as long as felony crimes.
On the other hand, a felony crime is more serious in nature and will therefore have stricter punishments.
For example, in California, a person found guilty of a misdemeanor can be sentenced to jail time for no more than one year and may get fines of not more than $1,000.
A person found guilty of a felony crime can expect a punishment of more than one year in jail and fines potentially up to $10,000.
Types of Crimes
In the United States, the criminal laws in every state divide crimes into different categories and classes depending on their seriousness.
For instance, you have infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies.
Within each of the crime categories, you have different “levels” or “classes” as well.
It’s important to consult with a criminal lawyer in your jurisdiction to understand the crime categories, classes, and their nuances.
Infractions are generally “light” crimes or an offense that is minor.
Typically, a person committing an infraction is generally punished with a fine.
For example, a traffic ticket is an excellent example of an infraction.
The person will generally not get any jail or prison time and will be issued a fine.
Here are some examples of crimes that are “infractions”:
- Disturbing peace
- Failing to stop at a stop sign
A misdemeanor is an act that is considered a crime, it is more serious than an infraction and less serious than a felony.
For example, misdemeanor includes:
- Petty theft
- Being drunk in public
- Domestic violence
The punishment for misdemeanor can be:
- Jail time for up to a year
- Fine for up to $1,000
- Community service
Under the federal sentencing guidelines, misdemeanors carry different imprisonment terms depending on their class:
- Class A misdemeanor will get at least six months of jail but no more than one year
- Class B misdemeanor will get at least thirty days of jail but no more than six months
- Class C misdemeanor will get at least five days of jail but no more than thirty days
Quite often, the convicted offender will serve his or her jail time in a local county jail as opposed to a high security prison.
A felony is a crime that is considered serious by society.
For example, felony includes:
- Lewd acts with a child
- Sale of drugs
- Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence
The punishment for a felony crime can be:
- Jail or prison for a minimum of one year and up to life in prison
- A fine of up to $10,000
Some jurisdictions in the United States also carry a death penalty depending on the seriousness of the felony.
The US federal laws classify felonies in different classes:
- Class A felony can give life imprisonment or death penalty
- Class B felony can get up to twenty-five years of prison or more
- Class C felony can get more than ten years but up to twenty-five years of prison
- Class D felony can get more than five years but less than ten years
- Class E felony can get more than one year but less than five years
There are certain offenses called “wobblers” or “wobbler offenses”.
In essence, the prosecutor can choose to charge them as either a misdemeanor crime or a felony crime.
Typically, the prosecutor will assess the facts of the case to decide if the defendant should be charged with a misdemeanor versus felony.
For example, a wobbler offense can be:
- Brandishing a weapon
- Assault with deadly weapon
- Elder abuse
The prosecutor will consider various elements to make a decision on how to prosecute the crime, such as:
- The criminal history of the accused
- The circumstances of the crime
- If the accused was charged for the same crime in the past
Felony vs Misdemeanor Takeaways
Is a misdemeanor a felony?
What’s the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?
Let’s look at a summary of our findings.
Misdemeanor vs Felony
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