Felony vs. Misdemeanor: What’s the Difference?

January 1, 2023 | By Shane Phelps Law
Felony vs. Misdemeanor: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to criminal charges, there are two types of charges: felonies and misdemeanors. Each type of charge carries different penalties, and it's important to know the differences between them. If you're facing criminal charges or are in the middle of a criminal case, this blog post will help you understand the difference between felonies and misdemeanors.

Felony Charges

Felony charges are serious crimes that can result in significant jail time, hefty fines, and other significant penalties. Examples of felony charges include murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking, and embezzlement. These charges require substantial resources by the government and can take years to prosecute.

If you're charged with a felony, it's important to secure competent legal representation to help you navigate the complicated legal system. A good criminal defense attorney can help build a case that will help you obtain the best possible outcome.

Misdemeanor Charges

Misdemeanors are considered less serious charges compared to felonies, but they should not be taken lightly. Misdemeanors carry less serious penalties compared to felony charges, but they can still result in fines or jail time.

Examples of misdemeanor charges include disorderly conduct, driving under the influence or DUI, and simple assault. Misdemeanors are usually punishable by fines or short jail terms, usually less than a year.

Degrees of Felonies and Misdemeanors

Both felonies and misdemeanors can have degrees, which can add or reduce penalties. For example, a first-degree felony is typically considered more severe than a third-degree felony. Likewise, a first-degree misdemeanor may carry more significant penalties than a second-degree misdemeanor. Charges are typically classified based on the severity of the crime committed and the presence of aggravating factors like prior criminal history or weapons involved.

Plea Bargaining

In most criminal cases, the defendant is allowed to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecution. A plea bargain usually involves the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser charge, resulting in less severe penalties. Plea bargaining is an effective way for defendants to avoid the risk of a more severe sentence. A competent criminal defense attorney can help you determine if striking a plea bargain is right for your case.

Can You Get a Misdemeanor Expunged?

Yes, it is possible to get a misdemeanor conviction or arrest expunged or sealed under certain conditions. Expungement is a legal process that allows for the removal of certain criminal records from public view, making them unavailable to the general public, including potential employers, landlords, and other background check agencies.

The eligibility for expungement of a misdemeanor conviction or arrest varies from one jurisdiction to another and may depend on several factors, including the type of misdemeanor, the specific laws of the state or country, and the individual's criminal history.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Eligibility Criteria: Eligibility for misdemeanor expungement typically depends on factors such as the nature of the offense, the disposition of the case, and the individual's criminal history. Generally, you may be eligible for expungement if you were acquitted (found not guilty) of the misdemeanor charges or if the charges against you were dismissed. Some jurisdictions also allow expungement for certain low-level misdemeanors, especially if you have completed a diversion program or deferred adjudication probation.
  • Waiting Period: There may be a waiting period after the disposition of the case before you can apply for expungement. This waiting period can vary from a few months to several years, depending on local laws.
  • Clean Criminal Record: In many cases, you must have a clean criminal record for a specified period after the misdemeanor disposition. This means that you should not have committed any new offenses during that time.
  • Expungement Application: You will need to file a formal expungement application or petition with the appropriate court in your jurisdiction. The application typically includes information about the case, such as case numbers, arrest dates, and reasons for seeking expungement.
  • Hearing: In some cases, you may need to attend a hearing before a judge to present your case for expungement. This is more common when there is opposition or if the eligibility criteria are not straightforward.
  • Court Order: If your expungement is approved, you will receive a court order specifying the records to be expunged.
  • Notification to Relevant Agencies: After obtaining the court order, you must provide copies to relevant law enforcement agencies, courts, and other entities involved to ensure that they expunge or seal the specified records.

It's essential to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney or seek legal advice in your jurisdiction to understand the specific eligibility requirements and procedures for expunging a misdemeanor conviction or arrest. Keep in mind that the laws and processes can vary significantly from one place to another, so it's crucial to follow the correct legal procedures to have your record expunged successfully.

Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Knowing the difference between felonies and misdemeanors is important when facing criminal charges. It can affect the penalties you receive and the defense your legal team will build for you. The best thing to do when facing criminal charges is to get an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you navigate the legal system. They will help you negotiate, build a strategic defense that ensures the best possible outcome, and protect your rights. Remember, criminal charges can significantly impact your life, and it's always best to take them seriously.