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

Whether it is yourself or a loved one who is charged with a criminal offense, you likely have a lot of questions. Many do not have even a general understanding of the law including vocabulary and even a person's rights or next steps in the legal process. This is completely understandable, but it doesn't mean a person should be uninformed throughout the entire process. A good place to start is understanding the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony.

If charged with a crime, a person is likely charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor is a less serious charge, one that doesn't carry such potentially heavy consequences or fines, generally with a potential jail time of up to one year. Felonies, on the other hand, are more serious and can be punishable by one year or more of jail time. Court room procedure must be strictly observed so that the defendants' rights stay protected, especially in situations in which a person is accused of a felony.

Just because a person is charged with a crime does not mean that the person is guilty of that crime. All defendants for a crime are innocent until proven guilty. Generally, in instances of criminal accusations, the state has the task of the burden of proof. This means that they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of that crime of which they have been accused.

If charged with a misdemeanor, this may be the most serious charge a person has ever faced. However, it is not as serious as a felony accusation, which is a plus. Beyond the possibility of jail time, the accused could face fines, suspensions, community service or other restitution if convicted of that crime. If acquitted, the person will generally walk free.

Source:, "What distinguishes a misdemeanor from a felony?," Accessed Jan. 1, 2018

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