The Difference Between a Felony and Misdemeanor

You may already know that a misdemeanor is a less serious crime than a felony. In fact, a felony depends on the severity of the offense. Felonies include violent crimes, acts involving weapons, and large-scale theft. On the other hand, a misdemeanor does not cause bodily harm or extreme financial loss to others and requires a less severe penalty. The difference between a felony and misdemeanor is clear in the following examples.

For clarity, examples of felonies include:

On the other hand, misdemeanors include:

As you can see, the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is the severity of the crime. While a misdemeanor is no laughing matter, it is easy to see how public intoxication is less severe than, say, murder. Punishment for a felony most often involves prison or jail time. A felony affects a person’s civil liberties. With a felony on their record, a citizen loses their second amendment rights, their right to hold public office, and their right to vote. Adversely, a misdemeanor does not invoke jail time or a loss of rights.

Wobbler Crimes: Not Quite A Misdemeanor, Not Quite A Felony

“Wobbler crimes” is a colloquial term describing certain crimes that can be classified as either misdemeanors or felonies. Classifying the offense depends on several factors. The prosecutor takes into account whether or not weapons were present during the crime, the degree of property or financial loss for the victim, and the state in which the person committed the crime.

Examples of “wobblers” include:

  • An assault not involving weapons
  • Small-time burglary
  • A DUI charge where no one was injured

A prosecutor charges a wobbler crime as a felony but offers a misdemeanor as a bargaining chip. The accused pleads guilty to a misdemeanor, which lessens the sentence.

Misdemeanor vs. Felony Punishments

The Difference Between a Felony and Misdemeanor: Fines

Both misdemeanors and felonies include fines as punishment. Penalties vary by state and crime. In some states, the maximum amount a person pays for a misdemeanor is $5,000. On the other hand, in states like Alaska, a person pays up to $10,000 for a Class A misdemeanor.

The fines for felonies are, understandably, much more expensive. While the amount depends on the state in which the crime occurred, a Class A felony costs up to $100,000.

Not only does a felony carry a heftier fine but it could also carry with it a jail sentence.

The Difference Between a Felony and Misdemeanor: Jail Time

Misdemeanors do not typically involve jail time as punishment. If a judge deems imprisonment as necessary, the sentence cannot exceed 2.5 years for a misdemeanor in Massachusetts. Typically, people serving time for misdemeanors only go to county jail, not state or federal prison.

On the other hand, the difference between a felony and misdemeanor means felons receive prison sentences ranging from a couple of years to life. The length of time served relies on the crime committed and the judge assigned to the case. If the state imposes a three-strikes law, a repeat felon faces longer periods of incarceration no matter the crime. Some states still employ the death penalty as punishment for serious felonies such as murder.

The Difference Between a Felony and Misdemeanor: Long-Term Effects

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) limits how employers reject people with criminal backgrounds. However, an adult that commits a misdemeanor or felony carries that charge around on their permanent record for the rest of their life. This affects employment opportunities and gun ownership rights.

Of course, a felony on the record is much more severe than a misdemeanor. It is possible for an employer to overlook a misdemeanor. After all, a public intoxication charge when you’re 21 does not necessarily reflect a person at the age of 35. However, certain misdemeanors impede employment. For instance, a public schoolteacher with a DUI may be asked to resign.

Help With Misdemeanors and Felonies In Massachusetts

If you or someone you know faces felony or misdemeanor charges in Massachusetts, Attorney James G. DeGiacomo can help. Call (617) 941-3666 for a free consultation. The law is confusing. An attorney can guide you no matter what type of case you are facing. Make sure you obtain proper legal counsel for your given situation. Speaking with an attorney is a good idea whether you’re facing misdemeanor or felony charges. Most lawyers will offer a free consultation so getting the proper advice is free.