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Felony vs misdemeanor what is the difference

Felony vs Misdemeanor - What are The Differences?

Although there are differences between a felony and misdemeanor they both follow the same guidelines of embodying the Constitution, statutes, and case law. Crimes are constantly changing and are redefined through case law and common law; law that was established by judges made during previous cases and decisions, also known as legal precedent. Although they follow the same principles, there are significant differences in how they can affect your life moving forward.

Felony vs misdemeanor arrest or not

Felony vs Misdemeanor : Arrest Implications

Not every crime is arrestable. Each crime will have an associated penalty and will have a maximum action an officer can take. State laws and city ordinances such as drinking in public, will effect how an officer can respond to different crimes.

  • Complaint (Summons): Can’t arrest even if officer witnesses the offense
  • Arrest on breach of the peace only: Arrestable only if the offender is causing public harm or annoyance and refusing to stop.
  • Arrest in presence only: Arrestable only if the Officer witness the crime.
  • Arrest on probable cause: Unpacking Probable Cause


                A misdemeanor is a crime punishable under law of less than 1 year (12 months) in jail. Often, these offenses carry alternate avenues of penalties such as community Service, probation, and fines. Although each state is different, some states have different levels of penalties according to their seriousness and classification code. An example would be as follows:

  • Class A: The maximum term of imprisonment is one year or less but more than six months.
  • Class B: The maximum term of imprisonment is six months or less but more than thirty days.
  • Class C: The maximum term of imprisonment is thirty days or less but more than five days.

Not every state will have the same class range, terms, or conditions as each other. As the crime becomes more serious, it may turn into a felony with more serious consequences. Some states don’t have a class associated with their misdemeanors and each crime will have a set sentencing and penalty guideline.

Age/Status Offenses

Some actions only become criminal because of the individuals age; such as possession of, or purchasing Alcohol under the age of 21.

Felony vs misdemeanor theft of bicycle


                A felony is a serious crime that can be punished by more than one year in prison or death. There are a variation of felonies that can range in seriousness and do not all carry the same sentencing parameter. Some felonies have a misdemeanor version and is only enhanced to a felony when certain elements (facts) occur. For instance, larceny (Theft) is typically a misdemeanor unless it has another element or aggravating factor. Larceny of a bicycle may turn into a felony if the bicycle was valued over the felony threshold (varies by state), they stole it directly from a person (robbery) or took it from the back of someone’s van (Breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony). The sentencing guidelines of these crimes will vary significantly depending on the elements and circumstances of each case.

  • Class A: The maximum term of imprisonment is life or death penalty
  • Class B: The maximum term of imprisonment is 25 years or more.
  • Class C: The maximum term of imprisonment is 25 years but more than 10 years.
  • Class D: The maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years but more than 5 years.
  • Class E: The maximum term of imprisonment is 5 years but more than 1 year.

Within the parameters above, a judge has certain guidelines they must follow when deciding sentences. Like misdemeanors, states that do not use class codes will have penalty guidelines attached to each individual crime. These parameters are an important part of our criminal justice system as it leaves less room for biases and favoritism. If a case goes to a jury trial and the jury finds an individual guilty of a crime, the judge cannot impose an imprisonment sentence higher or lower then what is allowed. This is an important consideration prosecutors and defense attorneys will use when discussing plea bargaining agreements.

Felony vs Misdemeanor : Criminal Record Guilty finding implications

Felony: A felony conviction results in a serious criminal record that can have long-lasting consequences, potentially affecting one’s ability to find employment, secure housing, or obtain certain licenses. Felony convictions may also carry long-term consequences such as loss of voting rights.

Misdemeanor: While a misdemeanor conviction also creates a criminal record, it’s generally viewed as less severe than a felony conviction and may have fewer long-term implications.

Absent being expunged (difficult for felonies), felonies will stay on an individual’s record for life. This means that all felony guilty findings can be seen by potential Employers, banks, landlords and law enforcement forever. Although there are certain parameters of how employers, landlords and banks can use your records, it may directly impact their ability to rent an apartment, get a job, buy a home, or obtain certain licenses.

Misdemeanors are a bit trickier and it will depend on the state laws and guidelines. Some states, such as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, California, and New York have restrictions on how far back misdemeanors can show up on a background check. A juvenile record is also subject to state law in regards to how they can be used.

Understanding the difference between felonies and misdemeanors is crucial for individuals involved in the legal system, whether as defendants, victims, or legal professionals. By knowing the distinctions between these classifications, individuals can better navigate the complexities of the criminal justice system and make informed decisions regarding their rights and legal options.

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By Branden

Branden is a Police Lieutenant who has investigated numerous crimes. He has written and executed multiple search warrants, conducted various protective sweeps, pat frisks and exit orders. He has been involved in numerous police vehicle chases, fights, disturbances, foot pursuits, suspect/hostage negotiations and felony stops. He is trained with an assortment of weapons. He has spoken with countless victims, witnesses and suspects and is using his experience to better protect our communities and loved ones by sharing his knowledge through his writings.

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