What's the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?

Not all crimes are created equal. The criminal justice system divided them into convenient categories, usually based on how severe the penalties are. In a broad sense, there are three types: infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. Here are the key differences between all of them:

  • Infractions. Infractions classify as the least serious of all the crimes. Infractions are things like speeding tickets, loitering and even sometimes minor possession of drugs. With infractions, you'll generally just be handed a ticket and expected to pay it or have a brief appearance in court.
  • Misdemeanors. Misdemeanors can be much more serious than infractions and can include time in jail; as much as one year. Usually, if jail time is given it will be in a county jail rather than a prison. With misdemeanors, prosecutors have a huge amount of leeway with which to handle defendants. This can make misdemeanor charges tough to predict in terms of plea bargains and penalties.
  • Felonies. Felonies are handled more seriously by the justice system than any other crime. They are typically punishable by more than one year in prison and include crimes like murder, burglary and rape.

Any misdemeanor or felony can land you with heavy fines, jail sentences and probation, which can damage your reputation and ability to make a living. That's why if you're facing charges, it may be a good idea to speak with an attorney. An experienced criminal defense attorney could take a look at your case and help you come up with a strategy for your defense.

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