Felony vs. Misdemeanor Offenses

What's the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?

Criminal offenses may be classified as infractions, felonies or misdemeanors. All three charges are separated by the penalties which may be imposed. Let's take a brief look at these types of offenses and their differences:

An infraction is the lesser of the three and is not punishable by jail time. Typically, a fine is the only penalty associated with an infraction. A typical speeding ticket is an example of an infraction.

Less serious than a felony, a misdemeanor is typically punishable by time in county jail, though the specific term of incarceration may vary depending on the state. In some states, misdemeanors have a 12-month maximum term of jail time, while in others it is 6 months or another length of time. Some examples of crimes typically classified as misdemeanors include: possession of small amounts of marijuana, first DUI/DWI offenses and shoplifting.

A felony is the most serious type of crime a person may be accused of committing. It may be punishable by time in a state correctional facility (state prison). Depending on the state in which the offense allegedly occurred, a defendant may face a minimum of one year in prison. Some felonies are punishable by years, decades or even life behind bars. In extreme cases, a defendant may face the death penalty if convicted of a felony. This only applies in states where the death penalty is allowed by law. Some examples of felonies include forcible rape, manslaughter, murder, drug trafficking and assault with a deadly weapon.

Felony offenses are also separate from misdemeanors in that certain violent or serious felony offenses may qualify as a "strike" under the state's three strikes law. Specific crimes which qualify as "strikes" will vary depending upon the state. Most felony offenses are not eligible for expungement as well.

Some criminal offenses are also classified as "wobblers", which means they may be charged as a felony or misdemeanor, depending upon the particular situation. Some common examples of wobblers include domestic violence, DUI, theft and battery.

To find a criminal defense attorney in your area, click here.