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Difference Between Felony and Misdemeanor

Updated on November 4, 2012

Disclaimer: This hub is for informational purposes only and shouldn't be taken as legal advice because I am not an attorney. Although I never have had any brushes with the law that warranted the charging of felony or misdemeanor charges against me, I’ve written about this subject out of interest.

The Salient Differences Between Felony and Misdemeanor

Going back to the difference between felony and misdemeanor, you may have come across these two terms whenever police-related news stories or news about celebrities come out on the radio or on television. Although both terms share some similarities in the sense that both are criminal offenses, they are different from each other in the hereunder aspects:

1. Jail Time Duration – misdemeanors usually carry a shorter maximum jail sentence (usually up to one year only, although this can vary from one state to another) while felonies, on the other hand, carry a longer maximum jail sentence (usually a minimum of more than one year up to life imprisonment in most states).

2. Type of Jail – punishment for misdemeanors usually involves imprisonment in a city or county correctional facility. Furthermore, some misdemeanor cases involved only house arrest for a specified number of months (no more than 12 months). The punishment for felonies, on the other hand, involves an imprisonment in a medium to maximum security prison facility such as a state or federal penitentiary.

3. Degree of Classification – misdemeanors are often less-serious crimes while felonies are generally very serious crimes. For example, all crimes punishable by the death sentence are felonies; however, the element of “intent” can sometimes determine if the crime committed is classified as a felony or a misdemeanor. One famous or rather infamous example of a crime that’s been classified as a felony is the shoplifting case of Winona Ryder, a famous Hollywood actress who was caught shoplifting expensive items from a well-known, classy Beverly Hills store sometime in 2002. In Winona Ryder’s case, her defense attorneys were pressing so hard to convince the court that, although she committed shoplifting in a technical sense, she didn’t have the “intent” to steal those items from the store; she merely “forgot” to pay for the items and, thus, making the act as a mere misdemeanor. However, the prosecutors were able to prove convincingly to the court the Winona really did “intend” to shoplift the items from the store which resulted to her felony conviction.

4. Procedural Difference – a felony case usually involves a preliminary hearing where the accused can be indicted if the evidence against him is strong enough to warrant the filing of information to the courts or, depending on the gravity of the charges, is allowed to post bail or not. In misdemeanor proceedings, the accused is simply hauled off to the court to face a judge and, if found guilty of the misdemeanor charges, the accused is then given a sentence,a fine, or a penalty by the judge.


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