What's The Difference Between Misdemeanors And Felonies?

If you are arrested, you may want to know whether you are going to get charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. There are some things that are obviously going to be felonies, such as murder, but there are other things that you may have done that would qualify as a misdemeanor or that you and your lawyer can deal down to a misdemeanor. So what is the difference between the two?


A misdemeanor is generally a smaller crime. That includes things like shoplifting, some burglary, vandalism, and other such things. Generally things like traffic tickets are not counted as a misdemeanor, and are categorized as an infraction. That means they generally don't show up on your criminal record as something that can be held against you. 

One way that misdemeanors and felonies are separated out is by the punishment. For example, in many states, if the punishment is jail time that will be under a year, then it qualifies as a misdemeanor. Within the classification of misdemeanor, there are other levels of severity. Those are broken down by things like how much damage you may have caused, how much money you may have taken, and other things. 


Felonies are crimes that carry a potential punishment of over a year. The jail time you serve will also be in a state or federal penitentiary, while the jail time you serve for a misdemeanor may be served in a county jail or low security prison. Being incarcerated in a penitentiary will generally mean that you are further away from your family, so you may not see them as often. 

Like misdemeanors, felonies come in various degrees. What breaks crimes into different degrees are things like how many people were injured, if you were armed while you were committing your crime, or how long your potential incarceration will be. If you have a previous criminal record for the same offense then your crime may also be rated as a higher degree since you have shown the potential to re-offend, so the prosecutor is going to want to charge you with as much as possible to make sure that you get all the time possible. 

If you have been charged with a crime, you need to speak to a lawyer. They will tell you your options and let you know what you can do to get any jail time reduced or eliminated all together.