The Difference Between a Misdemeanor and Felony

felony vs. misdemeanorMisdemeanors are the most common type of crime, and they are less serious than a felony. Generally misdemeanors are punishable by fines paid to the court and/or less than one year in a county jail. Unlike felonies, in many jurisdictions a defendant is not entitled to a court-appointed lawyer if they cannot afford their own legal counsel.

Traffic violations tend to be the most common type of misdemeanor and usually do not result in arrest, but instead a traffic ticket is issued and the defendant can either pay the fine and plead guilty, arrange a plea agreement with the court by using a traffic lawyer, or attend court on their own behalf. More serious traffic offenses, such as DWI may still be a misdemeanor, but the suspect will usually be arrested.

Felonies are more serious than misdemeanors. A felony is generally punished by more than one year in prison, and certain felonies, such as murder can be punished by the death penalty. A person charged with a felony will have the right to a court-appointed attorney if they cannot afford their own legal counsel. If someone is charged with a felony it is generally recommended that they hire a lawyer for their case.

Criminal defendants and witnesses can have their testimony ignored by the court in certain jurisdictions if they have a prior conviction for a felony.

Being found guilty of a felony can cause a person to lose their right to vote, serve in a jury or gain employment at many places. Felons may also lose their right to own firearms or join the military. Misdemeanors usually do not carry any of these consequences, although certain companies may not hire someone with some types of misdemeanors such as a DWI or many traffic tickets for a commercial truck driver.