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Types Of Criminal Charges - Felonies Versus Misdemeanors

Types Of Criminal Charges - Felonies Versus Misdemeanors

Both felonies and misdemeanors are types of criminal charges that carry potential jail time, but they are very different in the penalties and future consequences if you are convicted.


Misdemeanors differ from felonies in the amount of jail time. The maximum you can receive for any misdemeanor offense is one year in jail, with some exceptions, and sentences vary greatly from probation and/or fines to the one-year maximum.

Misdemeanors include the following types of offenses:

  • shoplifting;
  • simple assault;
  • trespassing;
  • careless or reckless driving;
  • first-time drunken driving convictions;
  • vandalism; and
  • disorderly conduct.

Many states will classify misdemeanors by degree, with the more serious charges often labeled as aggravated misdemeanors. These charges will carry more serious penalties and usually mandatory jail sentences, along with increased fines.

Some jurisdictions do not offer jury trials for some kinds of misdemeanors, and your case may only be heard by a judge. Other jurisdictions may not offer you a court-appointed attorney in misdemeanor cases. Although a misdemeanor will stay on your criminal record, it is generally easier to have it expunged, or erased, than a felony.


Felonies encompass the most serious crimes, such as homicide, robbery, aggravated assault, rape or sexual assault, kidnapping, and most drug and gun crimes. Any prison term that may be imposed that is longer than one year is a felony.

Although a felony conviction can result in a sentence of only probation or house arrest with an ankle monitor, it usually means you will spend some time in prison. The more serious felonies require mandatory minimum jail sentences with no parole during the minimum time. You may also have to spend at least 85 percent of your sentence for some crimes before becoming parole-eligible.

Consequences Of A Felony

A major difference between these types of criminal charges is in the future consequences. A convicted felon cannot own a firearm or vote in some states. And, a conviction can seriously hamper your ability to find employment or housing, obtain credit or licenses, get a security clearance or travel outside the country. If you are a non-citizen, you could face deportation.