Legal Articles
Criminal Defense
Get Started Finding a Local Attorney Now

Simply fill out this form to connect with an Attorney serving your area.

What are Felonies and Misdemeanors

Criminal law divides crimes into two main categories: felony and misdemeanor. Because state legislatures and Congress define what constitutes a felony and a misdemeanor, crimes that fit into each category may differ somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

In general, felonies are reserved for more serious crimes and entail more serious punishments. Misdemeanors, on the other hand, are lesser crimes with lesser punishments.

The Differences Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor

The main difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is the severity of the crime. What is considered to be a severe crime will vary from society to society and, sometimes, from state to state.

Both felonies and misdemeanors can be committed against people, property, or the state. Once again, though, the difference is the severity of the crime. For example, speeding down the highway would be considered a misdemeanor, but running someone over with your car on purpose would be considered a felony.

The punishments for a felony and misdemeanor differ greatly as well. Felonies tend to involve prison sentences of at least a year, fines, or a combination of both. Misdemeanors, on the other hand, involve prison sentences of less than a year, smaller fines, or a combination of both. Misdemeanors frequently result in alternative sentencing, such as community service or rehabilitation programs. Very serious felonies can warrant the death penalty.

Examples of Felonies

Examples felonies include:

  • Assault: Although not always classified as a felony, assault, if severe enough, can warrant a felony charge. Assault occurs when someone threatens physical violence, causing fear or harm. Usually, assault occurs with the use of a weapon, such as a gun or knife.
  • Battery: Battery, which usually is accompanied by assault, occurs when someone actually causes another person physical harm, usually with the use of a weapon or fists.
  • Arson: Arson is when someone intentionally sets fire to a building or, in some instances, a natural area, such as a forest.
  • Rape: Rape is the act of engaging someone in non-consensual sex.
  • Murder: Murder, also known as homicide, is when one person kills another person.

Some states subdivide felonies into groupings frequently called degrees. The lower the degree, the more severe the crime. For example, first-degree murder, which is murder that is premeditated, is considered more severe than second-degree murder, which is not premeditated.

Examples of Misdemeanors

Examples of misdemeanors include:

  • Speeding: Disobeying the speed limit usually results in a fine or a form of alternative sentencing.
  • Trespassing: Trespass is considered an unlawful intrusion. It is different from burglary in that property is not necessarily stolen or damaged.
  • Vandalism: Vandalism is the intentional destruction of another persons property.
  • Public intoxication: This is when someone is drunk in public. Usually, the drunk person is being unruly.

As with a felony, a misdemeanor can be subdivided as well. For example. some jurisdictions have class A misdemeanors, class B misdemeanors, and so on.

Felony and Misdemeanor Legal Help

If you are accused of or arrested for a felony or misdemeanor, you will want legal assistance, either to help prove your innocence or negotiate a lesser charge or sentence.

Say, for example, you are charged with felony possession, which is when someone possesses a certain amount of an illegal substance, such as cocaine or marijuana. You would want to get the best criminal lawyers you can afford. Thats because sentencing for felony possession can entail multiple years in prison.

Even in situations involving misdemeanors, you may want to seek legal representation. If you cannot afford legal representation, you can have a defense attorney appointed to you. This attorney is known as a public defender.