Difference Between Misdemeanor and Felony

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: August 10, 2023


Difference Between Misdemeanor and Felony

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Misdemeanors and felonies are crimes that differ in their severity. The former is punishable by less than a year in jail at most, whereas the latter carries much more severe penalties. Most people think all convicts (people found guilty of a crime) are nefarious. However, first-degree misdemeanor involves drunken driving, street racing, and other minor or petty crimes.

On the other hand, it is a good idea to turn tail and run if one comes within a mile of a convicted felon. Who would want to test a felon’s patience? An example of a mere third-degree felony is misconduct involving weapons. Of course, some felons try their level best to turn over a new leaf; they might be worth giving a second chance.

Misdemeanor Vs. Felony

Felony is so serious that felons are sentenced to capital punishment, whereas punishments for misdemeanors are, comparatively speaking, a slap in the wrist.

Difference Between Misdemeanor And Felony In Tabular Form

Parameters of ComparisonMisdemeanorFelony
Seriousness of crimeA misdemeanor is a less serious crime.Felony is a highly serious crime.
PunishmentFine or a jail sentence for less than a year (six months at most for first-time offenders). Sometimes, a fine along with a sentence in prison is imposed.The death penalty, lifetime imprisonment, or incarceration for more than a year.
Effect on Civil LibertiesConviction does not affect the convict’s civil liberties.Conviction leads to the loss of several civil liberties like the right to vote, own a firearm, and so on.
ExamplesDUIs, assaults, petty theft, etc.Murder, manslaughter, trafficking in stolen property, etc.
Effect on Job prospectsThough conviction for a misdemeanor negatively affects job prospects, the chances of snagging a job are still high.A convicted felon will find it challenging to get a job.
Place of IncarcerationMisdemeanants are incarcerated in jails.Felons end up in prisons.

What Is Misdemeanor?

Non-violent crimes like public intoxication, loitering, and petty theft are classified as misdemeanors and do not attract severe punishments. A prosecutor, at his discretion, may prosecute some crimes as either a misdemeanor or a felony. These crimes are colloquially known as wobbler crimes. Aggravating factors (for example, repeat offenders) may lead to such crimes being prosecuted as a felony.

Since states (at least in the US) define under which classification a crime falls, a crime considered a misdemeanor in one state may be a felony in another. A misdemeanor may result in the loss of certain privileges. After all, having a criminal charge (however minor it may be) to one’s name is not something one can brag about.

Types Of Misdemeanor

Different states have various methods of classifying misdemeanors. Some classify them based on degree, while others classify them based on class. The following are the well-known types of misdemeanors:

  1. First-degree Misdemeanor – DUI, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and so on are classified as first-degree misdemeanors.
  2. Second-degree Misdemeanor – Reckless driving, some types of assault, trespassing, harassing phone calls, criminal mischief, vandalism, and other similar crimes fall under second-degree misdemeanors.
  3. Third-degree Misdemeanor – Obstructing emergency vehicles, possession of marijuana, criminal speeding, abuse of a corpse, and so on are some of the common examples of third-degree misdemeanors.

What Is Felony?

Serious crimes like murder, tax evasion, cybercrime, identity theft, and so on are felonies. Punishments range from incarceration for a year to lifetime imprisonment. Some felons guilty of heinous crimes are awarded the death penalty. In short, the punishment is doled out according to the crime’s severity. The terms felony and misdemeanor have been abolished in several countries (notably UK and Australia). Instead of these terms, the words indictable offenses and summary offenses are used respectively.

Types Of Felony

Some states classify felonies by seriousness, while others classify them based on subject matter. The following are the types of felonies based on seriousness (some states classify them using the alphabets A to D or I):

First-Degree Felony

First and second-degree murders are examples of first-degree felonies. First-degree murder refers to premeditated and intentional murder, whereas second-degree murder denotes unpremeditated but intentional murder.

Second-Degree Felony

Arson, bribery, bigamy, and manslaughter are some examples of second-degree felonies.

Third-Degree Felony

Child abuse, forgery, aggravated stalking, and eluding arrest are examples of third-degree felonies.

Consequences of Felony

Felons face the consequences of their actions long after they complete serving time in prison. Once labeled a felon, they remain a felon in others’ eyes. Committing a felony makes a person ineligible for government assistance in several states. Banks refuse to lend loans, and landlords rarely rent them a house. Most states do not allow felons to purchase firearms or ammunition. Employers can legally discriminate against convicts guilty of serious games when hiring. Such unfavorable prospects make a felon’s life difficult at best and nightmarish at worst.

Felony In Other Countries

Though the meaning or definition of felonies is similar in most countries, the punishments and mode of trial differ slightly. In Cameroon, felonies are crimes punishable by a sentence of more than ten years or death. It differs from misdemeanors and offenses. A misdemeanor is punishable by ten days to ten years in jail or prison, whereas an offense does not result in more than ten days of jail time. In England, the juries of the Crown Court hold trials for indictable offenses (felonies). Indictable offenses differ from summary offenses, as the latter crimes are tried in a magistrates’ court. In Ireland, the distinction between felonies and misdemeanors was abolished in 1997.

Restoration Of Rights

Restoration of civil rights is possible only through executive clemency or expungement. However, most states do not allow expungement.


The expungement process varies from state to state. Most states seal or expunge the convict’s criminal records. Once the records are sealed, it is no longer available in public records, and therefore, the person can legally fail to acknowledge ever being charged with the expunged crime or even deny it. In Missouri, law enforcement officers can open an expunged record if the conditions of expungement are not met, or the person commits another offense.


Clemency refers to the amelioration of penalties by executive officials. Pardon, amnesty (pardon for a group of people), remission (cancellation of penalty), commutation, reprieve (temporary postponement of punishment), and respite (delay of ordered sentence) are the various forms of clemency.

A pardon is granted before or after conviction; it depends on the prevalent laws of the jurisdictions. Unlike expungement, a pardon only relieves some of the consequences of conviction as a criminal. Some view pardon as a tool to combat wrongful convictions and a loophole that gives an edge over a flawed judicial system. However, some view it as a corrupt tool of officials.

Pardons in Various Countries


The Parole Board of Canada has the power to grant, deny, issue, or revoke a pardon. The term record suspension has replaced the word pardon. A pardon keeps the conviction records separate from criminal records to provide the individuals an opportunity to mingle with fellow citizens again. This process removes any disqualifications caused by conviction but does not erase the fact that the person was convicted of a crime. To be eligible for a pardon, the person must have paid all fines, completed their sentence of imprisonment, and the probation order (if applicable).


Here, a pardon only reduces a sentence’s time period. The pardon may be general or particular. The former is granted to everyone covered by the passing of a specific law. The President’s Supreme Decree grants the latter. The President need not seek anyone’s opinion for granting such pardons.


The President of France determines whether a pardon is to be granted or not. If granted, at least three individuals sign the decree of pardon: the President, the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Justice. Other ministers concerned with the case may also sign the decree. The pardoned individual may not need to serve the imposed sentence or the balance of the sentence if already in prison.

United Kingdom

The Royal Prerogative of Mercy (power to grant pardon) is no longer in the monarch’s hands; the power solely resides with the government. Pardons are granted only to those considered morally innocent of a crime and only after conviction. Therefore, granting of pardons is rare.

A pardon may lead to commutation of penalty (substitution of a lesser penalty for the one imposed on conviction), but it does not prevent impeachment – Parliament’s right to prosecute individuals and hold a trial for high treason or other such crimes.

United States

The power to pardon those who committed a crime against the US (that is when convicted under federal law) rests with the President. In most states, the governors have the power to grant any form of clemency after conviction under state criminal law. Nine states have boards of pardons and paroles to grant pardons exclusively.


Pardons are rarely granted in Spain and if granted, are only for minor crimes or to repentant individuals near completion of their sentence. The convicted person must apply for the pardon or someone else in his name should initiate the process. Royal decrees pardoning the individuals are published in the public journal.


Pardon committees maintain a list of persons eligible for a pardon, and the President decides whether or not to sign the pardon. Former President Boris Yeltsin exercised his power to pardon in seven to eight thousand cases.

Three-Strikes Law

According to the three-strikes law, a person convicted of a crime with two previous convictions for a felony must serve a life sentence (at least 25 years) in prison. Granting of parole depends on the jurisdiction. Twenty-eight states in the US have some form of three-strikes law. Connecticut, Kansas, and a few other states call individuals prosecuted under this law persistent offenders, while in Missouri, they are referred to as prior and persistent offenders.

The three-strikes law is criticized, as it causes felons to opt for trial in hopes of avoiding life sentences. The detained convicts waiting for trial have to be guarded carefully due to the flight risks they present. Therefore, jails are clogged with convicts. Some accuse the law of focusing too much on street crimes compared to white-collar crimes. However, these criticisms are overlooked as the crime rates have gone down in most states.

Main Difference Between Misdemeanor And Felony In Points

  • People convicted of misdemeanors are referred to as misdemeanants, whereas those convicted of felonies are known as felons.
  • Murder, attempted murder, first-degree burglary, arson of occupied structures, and so on are examples of felonies. On the other hand, excessive speed, loitering, verbal assault, and vandalism are some examples of misdemeanors.
  • Conviction of a first-degree misdemeanor is punishable by six months in jail and a fine of $2500. A first-degree felony is punishable by death, lifetime imprisonment, or ten years in prison.
  • A second-degree felony results in imprisonment for ten (first-time conviction) to twelve and a half years (second-time conviction). Contrastingly, a person convicted of a second-degree misdemeanor may have to spend a mere four months in jail.
  • A person convicted of a third-degree misdemeanor may have to pay $500 or spend thirty days in jail. However, conviction of third-degree felony leads to imprisonment for a maximum of seven years or nine years (for repeat offenders).


Knowing the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony will help people if they (or someone close to them) are ever unfortunate enough to end up committing a crime. After all, who knows what fate holds in store for people? No one can predict the future. It is wise to know how serious one’s crime is, as the punishment varies with the degree of seriousness and the class the crime falls under.

Whether a person is facing charges of misdemeanor or felony, it is best to choose a competent lawyer who will build an ironclad defense. Even if the prosecutors are bent on pushing for the maximum punishment, a good defense will help to thwart their intentions and land a punishment that fits the crime. Moreover, a solid defense determines whether a person walks free or gets wrongfully convicted.


  • https://www.findlaw.com/criminal/criminal-law-basics/what-distinguishes-a-misdemeanor-from-a-felony.html
  • https://brandonwhitelaw.com/blog/whats-the-difference-between-a-misdemeanor-vs-a-felony
  • https://www.capitalcriminaldefense.com/blog/2023/july/difference-between-felony-misdemeanor/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felony
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misdemeanor
  • https://www.andycallifbailbonds.com/ohio-bail-bonds-blog/2020/february/common-ohio-misdemeanors/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pardon
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expungement_in_the_United_States
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-strikes_law



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"Difference Between Misdemeanor and Felony." Diffzy.com, 2024. Fri. 19 Jul. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-misdemeanor-and-felony>.

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