Felony Or Misdemeanor: What Is The Difference?

The principal difference between a felony and a misdemeanor in any state is that a felony is regarded as a more serious crime meriting a more serious punishment if convicted, while a misdemeanor is a lesser crime. It is the punishment that effectively defines the difference.

What Is A Felony?

A felony basically means any crime for which, on conviction, the punishment can be imprisonment for one year or more in a state or federal prison or death.

What Is A Misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is any lesser crime resulting in incarceration in a local county jail or detention center for less than a year and/or a fine. In many states, there are also “infractions,” which are petty crimes such as traffic or litter violations.

Some states, but not Mississippi, have dispensed with the terms “felony” and “misdemeanor” and instead classify crimes as “Class A,” “Class B,” and “Class C,” etc.

Examples Of Felonies And Misdemeanors

Examples of felonies include murder, manslaughter, rape, aggravated assault, armed robbery, burglary with intent to commit a felony, drug trafficking, embezzlement of large sums of money and kidnapping.

Examples of misdemeanors include public intoxication, drug possession, resisting arrest, soliciting prostitutes and a first driving under the influence (DUI) offense.

Some offenses could be either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. A first DUI conviction is normally a misdemeanor, while a third DUI offense can be a felony. A DUI offense that results in injury to another person can also be a felony. Similarly, an assault that causes injury is a felony, while a simple assault can be a misdemeanor. Shoplifting is a misdemeanor if the amount stolen is worth less than $500 and a felony if the amount stolen is more than $500.

Many states, including Mississippi, have habitual offense laws, also known as “Three Strikes” laws. If you have been convicted of two previous felonies in Mississippi or anywhere else in the U.S. and you commit a further felony in Mississippi, you can be sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Consequences Of Being Convicted

The consequences of being convicted of a felony for an individual can be greater than for those convicted of a misdemeanor, not just in terms of any prison sentence, but also in terms of the loss of certain rights as a citizen. You can lose your right to vote or to sit on juries. You can lose your right to carry arms and can be barred from working in certain professions, such as being a teacher or lawyer. Many misdemeanors can be expunged from your criminal record after a period of time. Most felonies, however, cannot be expunged, and therefore, the record of your felonies will be a lifetime stigma that may, among other things, deter many employers from giving you a job.

The legal process may also be different. In felony cases, the accused can only be charged on a grand jury indictment, whereas in lesser crimes, the accused can be charged based on a written complaint or information. Being charged with a felony can also bring about additional constitutional rights. If the court determines that you do not have the money to pay for a defense attorney, it can order that the accused be represented by a public-appointed attorney. Such rights do not exist in charges of misdemeanors.

If you have been accused of a felony or misdemeanor, it is important that you seek advice from a defense attorney before you do or say anything that may have lifelong implications. Contact Sumrall & Welch, PLLC, at 601-355-8775.