Most people know that a felony is a punishment for a serious crime that can affect the perpetrator for years after conviction. But if you set up a list of crimes and asked the average person which ones were felonies and which ones were less serious, they probably wouldn’t be able to tell you.

What are felonies, and how do they differ from misdemeanors and other less serious crimes? In this blog, we discuss the differences between a felony and a misdemeanor.

Types of Crimes

The law provides classifications for different degrees of crime. That way, serious crimes come with serious punishments, while lesser crimes are punished more leniently.


To start, a misdemeanor isn’t even the least serious crime on law books. The least serious type is actually called an infraction. An infraction is usually a small crime that’s punishable by a ticket and a fine. For example, most traffic tickets are infractions. A person will rarely serve jail time for an infraction.


A step up from infractions are misdemeanors. A misdemeanor is a more serious crime that can result in jail time — but no more than a year in jail. People convicted of misdemeanors usually serve time in minimum-security prisons or county jails.

Additionally, most misdemeanors are nonviolent offenses, which means that no one is harmed in the process of the crime. For example, a person who gets pulled over for drunk driving might be convicted of public intoxication and reckless driving, which are misdemeanors in most states.


Finally, the most serious crime is a felony. Felonies are usually crimes that cause harm to others or involve large sums of money. For example, murder and fraud are both considered felonies.

Felonies result in imprisonment for more than a year, and they can often result in lengthy prison sentences. After a person convicted of a felony is released from prison, their felony record can result in loss of certain civil liberties. Those liberties include serving on a jury, owning a firearm, voting, and running for public office. A felony conviction can also make employment difficult.

The Line Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony

This is the point where most people get confused. First of all, the severity of a charge depends on quite a few legal factors. Judges take into account the accused’s criminal record, the severity of the charge, whether the crime was premeditated, and the number of charges brought to the court. When all these factors come together, a judge will decide if the crime fits into specific legal categories — not just a misdemeanor or a felony.

For example, let’s say a man got into an argument with another man at a bar, picked up a bottle, and threw that bottle at the other man. The first man could be charged with assault, which could be a misdemeanor since the bottle didn’t actually make contact with the other man. However, he also could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, a felony, since he did intend to injure the other man with the bottle.

Second of all, many crimes are classified differently in different states. In Minnesota, for example, white collar crimes, burglary, and domestic assault by strangulation are all considered felonies. Legal professionals use a point system to determine the severity of charges leveled against a person. For example, a crime committed while a person is on probation for another crime will be considered more severe than the same crime committed while not under probation.

If you are accused of an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony, then know your rights. Many people think the only way a criminal lawyer can help is by proving your innocence. However, they can also help by arguing that a judge should reclassify the charges to a lesser degree of severity. Since the law can be complicated, it helps to have an experienced criminal attorney in your corner.

Contact us at Mesenbourg & Sarratori Law Offices, P.A. for more information.