Felony vs. Misdemeanor

There are significant differences between a misdemeanor and a felony offense. Consequences for misdemeanor convictions are less strict than punishments for felonies.

In general, misdemeanors are punishable by a fine and/or incarceration for less than a year in county jail – although specific offenses and individual jurisdictions are decisive factors. Misdemeanor infractions such as traffic violations usually have pre-set penalties.

In contrast, felony convictions normally lead to harsher punishments. Certain felony offenses may stipulate much higher fines as opposed to misdemeanors, and felonies may carry a sentence of more than a year in prison.

Some people think they are always provided with the right to a court appointed attorney if they face charges. This is not always true. If charged with a misdemeanor with no chance of jail, some jurisdictions will not provide a court appointed lawyer. However in a felony case, defendants being unable to afford an attorney could be appointed one since the stakes for a conviction are much higher.

In some jurisdictions, a felony is chargeable only after a Grand Jury indictment. In contrast, a misdemeanor complaint may be lodged with the court after receiving a written citation from a law officer.

Many court systems base “three strikes” laws on whether a defendant has had prior felony convictions. If a defendant has been convicted twice of a felony offense, one more felony conviction could subject him or her to life in prison.

Being convicted of a felony impacts the individual’s life to the highest possible degree. Convicted felons cannot serve as jurors. They lose their right to vote and to practice in certain professions. Owning a gun or serving in the military is also prohibited.

A person may be charged with a felony DUI if he or she has had prior DUI convictions within a specified time period. Some states take the person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) into account when determining the felony threshold.

A DUI felony conviction will lead to time in prison and expensive fines. In addition to these penalties, the offender will also lose his or her driving privileges.