The main difference between the two charges is that a felony is a more serious charge than a misdemeanor. A felony conviction will result in a fine of more than $1,000 and/or at least one year in the state jail. This is the minimum punishment for a felony — depending on the charge and circumstances of the crime, fines and jail time could be much more. A misdemeanor, on the other hand, carries a punishment of less than a year in the local or county jail and a fine of less than $1,000.
Examples of felony charges include manslaughter, armed robbery, burglary, drug trafficking, theft of more than $500, aggravated assault, and a third DUI conviction. Generally speaking, crimes against a person are considered a felony, with the exception of simple assault which is a misdemeanor.
Other misdemeanors include shoplifting, underage drinking, solicitation, first time DUI conviction, resisting arrest, public intoxication, drug possession, disturbing the peace, and simple battery.
Since felony crimes are much more serious than misdemeanors, felonies will often trigger additional constitutional rights. For example, if the defendant is considered “indigent” or low income, a felony charge will trigger the right to be represented by a public-appointed lawyer.
On the other hand, a person convicted of a felony could lose some of their rights, including the right to vote, serve in the military or carry a gun. A misdemeanor conviction generally does not affect a person’s rights unless there are additional charges or they have prior convictions.
Clearly, facing a misdemeanor charge is far preferable to facing a felony charge. It is sometimes possible to have charges reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, and that is why having a criminal defense lawyer represent you can make a big difference in the outcome of your case and your future.