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Misdemeanor Vs. Felony

Misdemeanor Vs. Felony

Different illegal actions are categorized as misdemeanors and felonies, according to how they appear in a state's penal code, the vehicle code, or the health and safety code (for drug offenses). The following article deals with the differences between misdemeanors and felonies.
Marian K
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Certain felonies which are classified as wobblers, can be eligible for reduction to misdemeanors, and can later be expunged, thus giving the felon a clean slate.
Misdemeanors are defined as criminal acts of a less serious nature, or lesser nature, which are punishable by imprisonment of up to a year or less.
Felonies are criminal acts which are more serious than misdemeanors, and are usually punishable by more than one year in prison, or in very serious cases, by death. A felony being more serious than a misdemeanor, is more severely punishable.
It is slightly difficult for a layman to understand the differences between a misdemeanor and a felony, because a deed can be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony based on the severity of the deed. Let me explain that with examples:

  • Shoplifting, as a deed itself, cannot be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. Shoplifting small items, or items worth less than $500 (in most states), is classified as a misdemeanor, while shoplifting items worth more than $500 amounts to a felony.
    Further, the deed is classified as class A, class B or class C misdemeanor, or a class A, class B, or class C felony, depending on the degree of seriousness, class C being the least serious and class A being the most serious.
  • Statutory rape is treated as a felony in most states, if the age gap between the rapist and the victim is more than 3 years. But if both the participants are minors, and the age gap between them is less than 3 years, then it is treated as a misdemeanor (even if both parties were willing participants).

Whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony, having a record of either can have debilitating consequences in terms of career prospects, as well as your personal life. There are certain other differences which will help you identify whether a crime as a misdemeanor or a felony. It usually depends on the punishment that is given to the person charged with the crime. Usually, both are further classified into groups or grades based on the severity of the crime, and these grades/ groups vary with jurisdictions. But on average, the following differences hold true in most states.
Misdemeanor Felony
Misdemeanors are punishable by fines, community service and rehabilitation for less serious offenses, and a jail term (not more than a year), in more serious cases. A person who has committed a felony, on the other hand, is usually sentenced to a jail term for more than a year, depending on the seriousness of the crime, and in extreme cases may also be given the death penalty.
A grand jury is not required for investigating and charging a misdemeanor, unless it is committed along with one or more felonies. They are usually sorted in special courts. In most jurisdictions, a grand jury trial is compulsory for convicting someone of a felony. A written complaint will not suffice.
A jail term is to be served in a local, city or county jail. A person who has committed a felony is required to serve his jail term in a state or federal prison.
The defendant is not entitled to a court appointed attorney if he cannot afford one on his own. A jury trial too, has to be requested and paid for by the defendant if he wants it. In felony cases, the defendant has the right to a court-appointed attorney, if he cannot afford one on his own.
Those with a misdemeanor on their record have certain restrictions imposed on them but are allowed to vote, serve in the military, serve on juries and practice in licensed professions like being a lawyer. A person convicted of a felony faces more stringent restrictions on his rights (collateral consequences). These may include professional restrictions (they cannot be lawyers or teachers), not being allowed to serve on juries, losing the right to vote, being prohibited from possessing guns, serving in the military, and may also have to register as an offender (e.g., sex offender or narcotics offender).
It is comparatively easier to expunge a misdemeanor than it is to expunge a felony. Not all felonies can be expunged. Only felonies which are "wobblers" have a chance of being expunged if they are reduced to misdemeanors.
Examples of misdemeanors:
  • Indecent Exposure in Public
  • Petty theft/ shoplifting amounting to less than $500 (in most states)
  • Simple assault on another person
  • Speeding, DUI, Driving without a license, etc.
  • Prostitution, Vandalism, etc.
Examples of felonies:
  • Indecent Exposure in front of a Minor
  • Theft/ shoplifting amounting to more than $500 (in most states)
  • Simple assault on an elected official, police officers and social workers
  • Frequent and repeated DUI charges
  • Murder, Kidnapping, etc.

In states where the three strike law is adopted, misdemeanors are not counted as "strikes". However, in cases where two prior felony convictions exist, a misdemeanor added to the list could be considered the "third strike", resulting in a 25-year to life imprisonment sentence with no parole.

Criminal records need to be expunged if you want to live a normal life without any restrictions. A person with a record has the option of getting it expunged online on ClearUpMyRecord. The other option is going the traditional way, and contacting an attorney. In all cases, while federal laws are constant, state laws defer. For this reason, a person facing any charges must get in touch with a qualified State Attorney, to verify the state's procedure for charging/ expunging a misdemeanor or felony crime.