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Misdemeanor vs. Felony: What’s the Difference?

Posted by Vitaly Sigal | Jan 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

Crimes are classified into one of two groups — felonies or misdemeanors. State legislators typically make the determination of which category a crime falls into, using factors that include how serious the crime is and what kind of impact it could have on victims as well as society. Felonies are a higher classification of crime and carry steeper potential punishments than misdemeanors.


This category, also referred to as petty offenses or violations, is used for behaviors that break the law, but are usually not considered crimes. Infractions are punishable only by fines, and include things like traffic tickets.

However, you should be aware that some offenses that carry no jail time are codnsidered misdemeanors, and therefore crimes. One example is here in California, where possession of less than one ounce of marijuana not intended for sale is a misdemeanor crime which is only punishable by fine.

Misdemeanors: Definitions and examples

A crime is categorized as a misdemeanor when the potential punishment allows for up to one year in jail. In addition, people convicted of misdemeanors may be fined, placed on probation, sentenced to community service, or made to pay restitution to the victim.

If you're charged with a misdemeanor, you are entitled to a jury trial. With the exception of indigent (destitute or poverty-level) people, court-appointed attorneys are not assigned to misdemeanor trials. You will need to hire a lawyer on your own.

Some examples of misdemeanor crimes may include petty theft, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, vandalism, simple assault and prostitution.

Wobbler Crimes

There are a few crimes considered neither misdemeanors nor felonies in some states. These crimes, called “wobblers,” may be charged and sentenced in either category, depending on the prosecuting attorney and the judge. This determination is usually made according to the facts and circumstances surrounding the crime.

One example in the state of California is assault with a deadly weapon other than a gun. Upon conviction, this crime can be punished with either prison time of two, three, or four years (felony) or jail time of one year or less (misdemeanor).

Felonies: Definitions and examples

The most serious criminal offenses, felonies are crimes punishable by more than one year of imprisonment. Most felonies involve serious physical harm or the threat of serious harm to victims. However, there are other types of crime considered felonies, including some white collar crimes.

Potential sentencing for felonies ranges from one year to life without parole in prison, or the death penalty in some states like California. There may also be permanent consequences resulting from a felony conviction upon your release, such as not being permitted to serve on juries or possess firearms. Second-time offenders who commit misdemeanor crimes may be charged with a felony. There can also be subdivisions by class or degree for felony crimes, with first degree being the most serious.

If you are charged with a felony, you have the right to a jury trial, and also to a speedy trial. You also have the right to representation if you can't afford an attorney on your own.

Examples of felonies include arson, burglary, obstruction of justice, grand theft or grand larceny, tax evasion, threatening an officer, violating parole, aggravated assault, rape, manslaughter, and murder.

The representation you need

An experienced lawyer can fight to reduce your sentencing or prove your innocence after you're charged with a crime. Vitaly Sigal, a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer, delivers aggressive defense representation for people who have been charged with a variety of crimes, both misdemeanors and felonies. To discuss the details of your case with Mr. Sigal, contact our office today.

About the Author

Vitaly Sigal

Vitaly Sigal Sigal Law Group Owner 355 S. Grand Ave, Suite 2450 Los Angeles, CA 90071 (213) 620-0212 Vitaly Sigal has extensive trial experience and is not afraid to take your case to trial if necessary. From straightforward to complex litigation, Mr. Sigal handles every case with the same i...


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