Misdemeanors vs. Felonies


If you are being charged with a crime, the offense types fall into three different levels: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. It is imperative that you understand the differences between them, especially misdemeanors vs. felonies.

Infractions, also known as violations

Infractions are sometimes called violations. They are smaller offenses that are usually punished by fines instead of jail time. Infractions cannot result in jail time or probation. If you are charged with an infraction, you do not have the right to a jury trial or a court-appointed attorney if you can’t afford your own representation. Traffic violations are the most common infractions.

What are misdemeanors?

Misdemeanors are more serious criminal offenses. Misdemeanors are punishable up to a year, and can also include other punishments like fines, probation, or community service. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you are usually entitled to a court-appointed lawyer if you cannot afford your own representation and you are usually entitled to a jury trial.

Misdemeanors are broken up into different levels or classes. The scale starts at Class 4/Class D, which carries the lightest sentence, and ends with Class 1/Class A, which carries the heaviest sentence.

Misdemeanors are usually not a deal-breaker for things like employment and are usually fairly easy to expunge or seal.

What are Felonies?

Felonies are the most serious type of criminal offenses and are often deal-breakers for employment or even housing. Felonies are crimes that usually involve violence, like assault, rape, or murder. There are also white collar crimes that fall under felonies, like fraud or embezzlement. People that are convicted of felonies are sentenced to time in prison instead of jail, and can range from a year to life sentence.

How are felonies classified?

Felonies are classified by violent or nonviolent crimes, and the degree of the felony is decided by the level of involvement in the crime. Legaldictionary.net defines the degrees in the following way:

First-degree felony: Homicide, kidnapping, sexual assault and rape and arson.
Second-degree felony: child molestation, manslaughter, aggravated assault and possession of a controlled substance.
Third-degree felony: assault and battery, elder abuse, distribution of pornography, DUI, fraud and arson
Fourth-degree felony: resisting arrest, involuntary manslaughter, burglary and larceny.

To sum up, when we talk about misdemeanors vs. felonies, the major difference between the two is that the latter can affect your ability to get a job, certain licenses, or where you live. A felony record is very serious and has long-reaching consequences.


Further reading:

More about misdemeanors vs. felonies –  The Massachusetts Judicial Branch

Felony and employment – Connecticut Law