In the United States, the criminal system is divided into different categories based on the level of crime. This categorization determines how the court system treats a particular case, so it is important to understand the differences. As a general rule, the classification of a crime is based on the degree of punishment or jail time sentenced to the offender.
Misdemeanor: By definition, a misdemeanor is a “lesser” criminal act. They are generally punished less severely than felonies, but typically more so than infractions (also referred to as minor, petty, or summary offences) and regulatory offences. Depending on the jurisdiction, examples of misdemeanors may include petty theft, prostitution, public intoxication, simple assault, disorderly conduct, trespassing, vandalism, reckless driving, discharging a firearm within city limits, or possession of cannabis. In the U.S., the maximum punishment for a misdemeanor is 12 months incarceration at a local jail. Other punishments may include monetary fines, probation, community service, a short jail sentence, or part-time imprisonment. Misdemeanors may result in the loss of privileges such as professional licenses, public offices, or public employment.
Felony: The U.S. government defines a felony as a crime punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year at a federal prison and is considered the most serious type of crime. Examples of felonies include: murder, rape, burglary, kidnapping, animal cruelty, tax evasion, or arson. Due to the broad range of crimes considered felonies, recent legislation has prompted less serious punishments for lesser felony offenses (the punishment fits the crime mentality). In some states, all or most felonies are placed into a classification based on the seriousness of the crime and their potential punishment upon conviction.
When charged with either a misdemeanor or felony it is important to seek legal advice from a knowledgeable and experienced attorney. For information on our areas of specialty in criminal law, please give us a call.