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What is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?


When you’re facing criminal charges it’s imperative to understand the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. While this article will provide you with some relevant insights, please also be aware it is not intended to replace the experienced counsel of a qualified attorney.

The legal system treats felonies and misdemeanors different: the most significant difference between the two is commonly considered the severity of the penalty and the power of imprisonment.

It’s worth pointing out the division is not a result of conviction from a crime punished by a specific time in jail. The difference rather results in whether the subject can be punished for a certain length of time or in a specified prison.

Differences between felonies and misdemeanors also differ from one state to another. States in which the death penalty is observed define all crimes punishable by death as felonies. Other states define felonies as any crime punishable by over one year in prison. Some states including Arizona define felonies as any crime punishable by imprisonment in a state penitentiary.

Misdemeanors are defined by crimes punishable by a maximum of one year in prison or local county jail. Some states including California carry lesser sentences, referred to as wobblers. Wobblers are crimes that can be charged as felony/misdemeanor crimes depending on their circumstances.

While there are many apparent differences between felonies and misdemeanors, procedural prosecution remains the same across the board. Both charges require the government to bring charges against the person, thereafter subject to legal proceedings. The state will need to follow additional federal protocols to prosecute any felony.

Any felony conviction will result in a loss of rights. A person convicted of a felony will lose the right to possess firearms or obtain specific licenses. Some states will also prohibit a felon from voting. Felons are additionally bound by law to disclose their history when applying for jobs.

Attorney Bernardo Garcia is a criminal defender in Phoenix, Arizona, focusing on criminal defense of the mentally ill.

Benjamin J. Doscher, Esq.

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