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What Is The Difference Between A Felony And A Misdemeanor?

Most states in the United States classify crime into one of two categories, a misdemeanor or felony. Where a crime is classified depends on the seriousness of the offense that has been committed. Also, this classification can help a defendant to know what to expect in terms of the severity of punishment to be meted out on them if convicted for the crime. Understanding the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony can help defendants to better understand the severity of the charges against them.


What are Misdemeanors?


Misdemeanors, according to lawyers for criminal defense, are offenses that are considered less serious. Offenses like driving under the influence (DUI), shoplifting, domestic violence, possession of fewer than 20 grams of marijuana, indecent exposure, vandalism, and others are classified as a misdemeanor offense.


In some states, there are different classes of misdemeanor offenses and this is aimed at separating the severity of each offense committed. In such states where there are classes of misdemeanor offenses, first-degree misdemeanors are regarded as the most severe misdemeanor offenses while the second and third-degree misdemeanors are less serious respectively. Misdemeanor offenses are usually punishable by jail time and/or fines. For misdemeanor offenses, jail terms are most often served in a local or county jail not far away from friends and family.


Although some misdemeanor proceedings may be rushed, in most cases, they follow the usual trial process similar to any other case where the defendant has access to a legal counsel to present their case before a court. Defendants who are unable to hire private attorneys may be appointed a public defender who will take on their case and try their possible best to defend against a conviction.


What are Felonies?


Felonies, although classified by the degree of severity, are the most serious types of criminal offenses committed. A first-degree felony is more serious compared to a second and third-degree felony, however, irrespective of the degree, the consequences of a conviction are dire. Common felony offenses include sexual battery, murder or homicide, carjacking, grand theft, robbery, embezzlement, kidnapping, rape, and more. In many states, although not always necessary, a prosecutor is required to obtain an indictment from a grand jury before the defendant is charged with a felony. Convictions in a felony case often attract heavy fines and lengthy prison sentences.


Unlike in misdemeanor convictions where the convict is sentenced to county or local jail to serve their time, most felony convictions end in state or federal correctional centers. Inmates sentenced for felony offenses to prisons or penitentiaries are often shuffled around and transferred from one prison to another to accommodate for new laws or the demands of the prison system.


Conviction in such a case as this brings a wide range of consequences both in the present and in the future for the offender. In many states across the United States, persons who have been convicted of felonies are barred from purchasing or possessing firearms, practicing in certain professional capacities including as a lawyer, in the military, or as a teacher, and also barred from serving on juries. A felony conviction can also close doors to many employment opportunities that may otherwise have been juicy.


It is important to note that whether you are faced with felony or misdemeanor charges, the consequences are dire, and hiring an attorney is one of the best decisions towards getting a favorable outcome.