What’s the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

A man in an orange jumpsuit with his head bowed, facing a judge in a courtroom.

Criminal charges are broken down into two main categories; misdemeanors and felonies. A misdemeanor is considered a lesser offense than a felony. Yet, there are several things individuals should be aware of when facing criminal charges. Here we’ll discuss the main differences between misdemeanors and felonies and what you’ll need to know if you’ve been charged with a crime.

What is a Misdemeanor?

As previously mentioned, misdemeanors are considered less serious than felonies. Misdemeanor charges often involve someone facing less than a year in jail or not facing jail time at all. If sentenced to incarceration, an individual will more than likely spend their time in the county jail rather than a state-run prison. Common crimes that are charged as misdemeanors include:

  • Vandalism
  • Shoplifting
  • Municipal Crimes
  • Assaults and Threats
  • Minor Drug Offenses
  • Possession of Stolen Property
  • Disorderly Conduct
  • Public Urination
  • Resisting a Police Officer

What is a Felony?

Felony charges are reserved for more serious crimes. Generally, felonies carry a sentence to jail for over one year, yet there is no set standard for what defines a felony throughout the country. When incarcerated, an individual will serve their time in a state or federal prison. Felonies typically involve crimes considered especially heinous and are punished as such. Some crimes that are considered felonies are:

  • Homicide
  • Carjacking
  • Embezzlement
  • Armed Robbery
  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual Assault
  • Crimes Where the Victim Is a Child

Additionally, when someone is convicted of a felony, they may suffer a permanent loss of freedoms and face large fines in addition to their prison sentence.

Are There Different Classes of Misdemeanors and Felonies?

In most states, misdemeanors and felonies are broken down into degrees. These degrees further categorize the offense committed. Misdemeanors are broken into two main categories:

  • Disorderly Person Classification: These are considered the most serious misdemeanors. An individual will face a disorderly person charge if they’ve committed assault, shoplifting, and resisting arrest.
  • Petty Disorderly Person Classification: This is the lowest level of crime that may result in being sentenced to jail. These offenses include crimes such as harassment and public urination.

Felony charges are also broken into several categories depending on the nature of the offense. Felony charges can be categorized as:

  • First-Degree: This is the most serious felony offense and can carry a prison sentence between 10 years to life imprisonment. Fines of up to $200,000.00 can be imposed by the courts as well. First-degree crimes include murder and rape.
  • Second-Degree: These crimes can include kidnapping, aggravated arson, sexual assault, and certain drug crimes. Second-degree felonies carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years and fines of $150,000.00.
  • Third-Degree: This category of felony carries a potential prison sentence of up to 5 years and fines of $15,000.00. Third-degree felonies include drug possession, DUI offenses, and some forms of robbery.
  • Fourth-Degree: Crimes including forgery, DUIs, and some types of robbery are charged as fourth-degree felonies. Individuals can spend up to 18 months in jail and face fines of up to $10,000.00 for these types of offenses.

Shugar Law Office: Criminal Defense Attorneys That Know the Law

If you’re facing a misdemeanor or felony charge in New Jersey, contact the attorneys at Shugar Law Office. We have the legal experience and resources to help you no matter what charges you’re facing. If you’ve been arrested for a drug offense or DWI, contact our team today for a free consultation.

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