What's the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

If you have ever watched crime show dramas or taken a look at newspaper listings of recent arrests within your community, you have undoubtedly come across the words felony and misdemeanor. Outside of the law enforcement and litigation, no one really talks about the differences between these two crime categories. But surely differences must exist, for sometimes you will see that someone is charged with misdemeanor theft and another felony theft.

To put it into simple terms, a misdemeanor is a crime that carries minor penalties and cannot put someone behind bars for more than a year. On the other hand, a felony is a crime that constitutes severe punishment, including at least one year behind bars, up to life. To think of it a different way, a misdemeanor causes harm that is easily remedied or does not require much money to fix, such as stealing a candy bar or giving someone a bloody nose, but a felony causes extensive and expensive harm, such as stealing a car or breaking someone’s arm.

Not all crimes are set in their ways. Some, called “wobblers,” can be either a felony or a misdemeanor. It all depends on the circumstances of the crime and the arrest. Sometimes a misdemeanor is escalated to a felony based on the intent of the person who committed the crime, and sometimes a felony is dropped to a misdemeanor due to a lack of solid evidence.

There is even a third category below misdemeanor called infractions. An infraction is a violation that can only be penalized by fines, not jail time, and generally causes no immediate or noticeable harm. Getting a parking ticket, for example, is an infraction offense. Infractions will also not appear on a criminal record, but traffic-related infractions will mar a driving record.

If you have more questions about misdemeanors, felonies, and your own criminal charges, you can contact me, Salisbury Criminal Defense Attorney William R. Hall. I would be happy to let you know your rights and legal options during a free initial consultation.