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Felonies and Misdemeanors: What is the Difference?


The law is filled with legal jargon that is confusing to most outside of the profession. To make things worse, some terms are not even clearly defined to lawyers. Something not commonly known outside of the law profession is the difference between felonies and misdemeanors.

The Difference

Each crime a defendant is charged with is defined as a class A misdemeanor, class B felony or some other lettered misdemeanor or felony. Felonies are generally more serious offenses and carry heavier punishments. The key difference is the possible range of punishment. Felonies can be anywhere from less than four years imprisonment to life in prison or the death penalty. Misdemeanors range from no jail or prison sentence to one year in jail. Misdemeanors include over six months in prison, but felonies include sentences of less than four years imprisonment; these overlap. A nice rule of thumb is the one-year mark. If the possible punishment for a crime is over one year, it is likely a felony. If the possible punishment is a year or less, it likely a misdemeanor. Outside of looking at the specific crime and how it is defined, this is the best way to differentiate.

Keep in mind that certain aggravating factors can elevate a misdemeanor to a felony. Factors like carrying a weapon during the crime or harming another person during the commission of the crime.

Why Does it Matter?

It is important to know the difference because the consequences of a felony conviction are more severe than being convicted of a misdemeanor. Possible consequences of a felony conviction include: (1) Limited to no voting rights, (2) inability to own a firearm, (3) limited employment options, (4) restrictions on public housing and public assistance, (5) limited ability to rent or own a home, (6) higher insurance rates, (7) harsher future sentences and less leniency in the future, (8) showing up on a criminal background check, and (9) various other effects. Not only do felony convictions have harsh consequences but just being charged with a felony can also have consequences since employers often ask if applicants are currently charged with a felony.

Not only are the prison sentences for misdemeanors less severe but the overall consequences are too. A conviction for a misdemeanor (1) will show up on a criminal background check, and (2) could potentially lead to harsher future punishments and less leniency in the future. As you can see, being convicted of a misdemeanor has a lot less baggage.

Get Legal Help

If you have been charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor, being represented by a skilled attorney is an invaluable asset to your defense. It is possible for a felony charge to be reduced down to a misdemeanor. For legal help, contact the office of Adam Woody at 417-720-4800.


On behalf of Marcus Clouse, Intern