Difference Between a Felony and Misdemeanor 

Every U.S. state, along with the federal government, has its own standards for the classification and procedures of different crimes. In California’s criminal justice system, crimes are categorized as infractions, misdemeanors, or felonies. Infractions are the least severe of criminal offenses and are usually punished with fines up to $250. Misdemeanors and felonies, however, are more serious charges that can result in jail time. But what is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?

Misdemeanors are less severe offenses, often nonviolent crimes with lighter penalties involving short jail terms, fines, or community service. Felonies include the most severe types of crimes and are punishable by at least one year of incarceration. However, there are some crimes that are considered “wobblers,” meaning they can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. 

A misdemeanor charge can be elevated to a felony if there are aggravating factors such as physical violence or property damage. For example, driving under the influence can be a misdemeanor, but if there are children in the car or a traffic accident was caused, the charge can be upgraded to a felony. Why is this important? If you are facing a criminal charge, you need to know how your offense will be classified, as well as the short term and long term impact of each outcome. 

What This Means Right Now

While not ideal, a California misdemeanor charge leaves your civil rights and freedoms intact, resulting in no more than one year of jail time and a fine of up to $1000. By contrast, being charged with a felony can come with steep consequences that impact your life moving forward.

In addition to imprisonment of a year or more, felony charges can result in a loss of voting rights, revocation of professional licenses, and prohibition from the use of firearms. While there are examples of felonies being downgraded to misdemeanors, as in the case of a plea bargain, there are certain crimes that can only be charged as felonies. 

Furthermore, under California’s three strikes law, an individual who has been charged with three violent crimes including at least one felony could face 25 years to life in prison. For someone with previous convictions, judgment on a wobbler offense could be the difference between freedom and life behind bars. However, with the help of a qualified criminal defense attorney, you may be able to walk away with a more favorable sentence. 

What This Means Long Term

The long term impact of a felony conviction can irreparably damage a person’s life, their future opportunities, and personal freedoms. Fortunately, the Law Offices of David A. Stein, experienced criminal defense attorney in Orange County, can help you fight felony charges and navigate the California criminal justice system. In some cases, we may even be able to reduce your felony to a misdemeanor conviction. Visit our site to learn more about the process, as well as the types of evidence in criminal cases that attorneys can use to your advantage.