What Is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony

What Are Examples of Felonies and Misdemeanors?

Misdemeanors and felonies are both crime classifications. They indicate the seriousness of the offense. A misdemeanor is considered a minor form of legal an infraction. It is usually punishable with hefty fines and the potential for jail time in local or county facilities. Felonies are more serious and may include some level of violence. The outcome could be a year or more of imprisonment in state or federal prisons.



Criminal infractions are the least serious of all crimes. They are also known as pretty crimes or summary offenses. They are usually addressed with fines alone and no jail time. Infractions run the gamut of parking or traffic violations, littering or building code violations. Minor infractions are legal crimes that are so minor they do not require the use of a jury trial for prosecution. Guilt may be easily determined as fault or intent to break the law. The offender can often adjudicate the issue by addressing the requirements of a citation within the time frame and for the amount of the fine indicated. Repeated infractions of similar or like offenses may result in more severe punishments over time. For example, multiple speeding tickets could lead to a suspended license. 


Misdemeanors are the lesser in the severity of criminal acts. They include prostitution, public intoxication, petty theft, vandalism, reckless driving, small amounts of the possession of drugs, perjury or obscenity. Although consequences of a misdemeanor are minimal in comparison to a felony, there can still be serious repercussions. For example, a conviction of a misdemeanor can result in the revocation of a professional license which would prevent the convicted individual from practicing medicine or law. It could also result in the inability to operate a motor vehicle for a certain period of time. Also, the conviction of some misdemeanors could limit the ability to obtain employment in certain professions or to access federal and state aid for student loans and other things. 

Misdemeanor Classification

There are different classes of misdemeanors including Class A or Class B, Class 1 or Class 2. The classifications are based on the severity and nature of the crime and each class carries an appropriate and corresponding punishment. 

Two types of misdemeanors that do not appear under regular headings are ‘unclassified misdemeanors’ and ‘gross misdemeanors’. A crime is labeled as an unclassified misdemeanor when it does not fit easily into one specific category. They may be unique to different municipalities and states across the country. A gross misdemeanor is more serious and also varies by state. Examples include gambling and drunk driving. 

Aggravating Circumstances

Another issue related to misdemeanors is the application of the label ‘aggravating circumstances or factors’. For instance, an assault is usually classified as a misdemeanor. But there are circumstances that can cause it to be elevated to felony status such as if a deadly weapon is used in the commission of the crime. Enhanced charges that will increase the severity of a crime could also be drunk driving, domestic violence, and embezzlement. 


What are Examples of Felonies?

There is a variety of criminal offenses that can be labeled ‘felony’. These include:

  1. Burglary - illegal entry into a building for the intent or purpose of committing a crime – most often theft

  2. Robbery – unlawfully relieving an individual (s) or places (such as businesses) of property by use of force or threat of violence

  3. Arson – the act of deliberately setting a fire for malicious purposes

  4. Rape – forced unwanted sexual intercourse

  5. Attempted murder – the unsuccessful act of taking another person’s life. The act may be deliberate, accidental or premeditated. 

  6. Homicide - the deliberate and unlawful murder of another human being.

Other examples of felony offenses are stalking, child abuse, child pornography, money laundering, prison escape, failure to inform a sexual partner of HIV, felony assistance, and interfering with the legal custody of a minor.

Three-Strikes Laws

It is an unfortunate fact that criminals tend to commit crimes repeatedly. They became what is known as ‘habitual offenders’ or ‘habitual felons’. The criminal justice system has created a response for this type of behavior. It is called the ‘three strikes law’ labeled after baseball. In baseball, three strikes are an out. The same is true with the three-strike laws. If a criminal commits three felonies, there are many states that will impose a much harsher sentence known as the three-strike law. 

Felony Sentencing

There are a variety of factors that influence the severity of a felony sentence for a convicted criminal. These include:

  • The seriousness of the harm that was inflicted on a victim or victims such as the extent of the injury

  • If a victim or victims died as a result of the crime The aggravating circumstances such as the population that has been victimized. Were they children? Elderly? This may add to the punishment.

  • The community’s attitude about a type of crime and its heinous nature

  • If the felon has prior convictions

  • If a deadly weapon was used in the commission of the crim

  • If the criminal was on probation at the time of the new offense


Criminal offenses are scaffolded according to the severity of the crime. They may be civil infractions, misdemeanors or felonies. Each of these categories carries different classifications and punishments according to severity and victims. 

  • Parole – the release of a prisoner in lieu of or as a temporary or permanent alternative to prison time. Parole is dependent on a variety of factors.

  • Prison terms – time that a convicted criminal is required to spend incarcerated.

  • Life in prison with the possibility of parole – despite the severity of the sentence a prisoner has the possibility of release within their lifetime.

  • Life in prison without the possibility of parole – the prisoner will never be released back into society.

  • Death sentence – the prisoner is condemned to death – although the reality of this sentence being carried out is slim and the prisoner can undergo years of appeals. 

Public records


Crimes may be mild or severe. Crimes that are relatively harmless will be misdemeanors. The punishment for this type of crime is usually a fine and some form of community service. Sometimes persons who are convicted of a misdemeanor may have to serve some time in jail. Felonies are serious crimes. Persons who are convicted of felonies will be incarcerated for a period of time. It will depend on the crime. 

The best option is to avoid committing criminal acts.