Simply put, a felony is considered a more serious crime and carries more severe penalties than misdemeanors. There are a couple things to remember when facing charges: one, if you have previously been convicted of a misdemeanor, your second offense may be classified as a felony. Two, your defense attorney may be able to negotiate charges down from a felony to a misdemeanor, which greatly improves your sentencing outlook and your prospects once your sentence has been served.
The following are some of the main differences between felonies and misdemeanors:
Some examples of felonies include homicide, arson, sexual assault, kidnapping, drug trafficking, drug manufacturing, aggravated DUI or assault.
Felony charges are categorized into 6 classes. Class 6 is the lowest category and therefore generally the easiest to negotiate down to a Class 1 misdemeanor. Class 1 felonies carry 25 years to life in prison, and in some circumstances the death penalty may be issued.
Most felony charges carry a minimum sentence of one year in prison.
Felons are not allowed to vote, serve on a jury, hold public office or possess a firearm. Nonviolent felons may apply for restoration of their second amendment rights.
Misdemeanors, like felonies, are crimes that will show up during criminal background checks. This can affect job, rental and financial applications, but a misdemeanor generally carries less stigma than a felony.
Some examples of misdemeanors include minor drug crimes, some criminal traffic violations, prostitution and soliciting alcohol from someone if you are underage.
Misdemeanors are categorized into 3 classes, with class 3 being the lowest and class 1 being the highest. Class 1 misdemeanors carry sentences of up to 6 months in jail and up to $2500 in fines, while class 3 misdemeanors carry maximum penalties of up to 30 days in jail and up to $500 in fines. If sentenced to serving time, it will be in jail, not state or federal prison.
Laws and sentencing guidelines are notoriously complex, as are guidelines for contesting, negotiating and appealing charges or decisions. If you face charges and don’t want a criminal record, it is in your best interest to hire an attorney.