The Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor

In the criminal justice system, there are two basic types of criminal charges. A person will either face charges for a misdemeanor or a felony.

Understanding the difference between the two is important for anyone facing charges. The severity of the crimes, punishments, and potential impact of a conviction varies between the two.


FindLaw explains a misdemeanor is a less severe crime than a felony. Someone convicted of a misdemeanor will face shorter sentences, lower fines, and fewer other penalties.

Since misdemeanors often carry sentences of a year or less, a person will usually serve that time in jail instead of prison.


A felony is a more severe level of crime. NOLO explains felonies carry harsher sentences, which means it is more likely that a person will have to serve the sentence in prison. Felonies also often carry more consequences. For example, a person may lose his or her right to own a firearm or not have the right to vote. A felony record can also make it harder to secure a job and may prevent a person from living in some rental units.


Sometimes crimes are both a misdemeanor and a felony. The actual charge depends on the prosecutor and which crime he or she wishes to pursue. Prosecutors may also offer a reduction from a felony to a misdemeanor as part of a plea bargain.

While misdemeanors are not as severe as felonies, they still create a criminal record for the person, which makes them both serious situations. It is important to note that laws in different areas, such as criminal law Evansville IN, may vary on how they treat misdemeanor and felony charges.

The Bottom Line

The takeaway here is that misdemeanors generally result is a better outcome than felonies. However, it is not ideal to face either type of charge since they both carry the potential for penalties and result in the person having a criminal record.