The Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor

The criminal defense attorneys at Alperstein & Diener explain the basic differences between a felony and a misdemeanor as it pertains to criminal law.

A felony and a misdemeanor are two classifications of crimes used throughout the United States. When an individual gets arrested, he or she could be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor based on the seriousness of the crime that was committed. Understanding the difference between the two charges is critical in the event you get in trouble with the law, because it will give you a better understanding of the possible penalties you may face.

A misdemeanor is a less serious type of crime that a person can be charged with, but not the least serious. Misdemeanors are typically punishable by extensive fines and could carry up to one year of jail time in most states. However, Maryland is somewhat unusual because there are Maryland misdemeanors which carry penalties of as long as 20 years in prison. Additional punishments that are connected to misdemeanors include serving a probationary term, performing community service and paying restitution.

Examples of misdemeanor crimes in Maryland include, but are not limited to, second degree assault, stalking, harassment, theft of small-valued items and carrying a concealed dangerous weapon. Individuals that are charged with a misdemeanor are usually tried in a District Court before a judge, but jury trials are available depending on the potential penalty.

More serious charges are categorized as felonies and they are the most serious type of criminal offense with which a person can be charged, and are punishable by substantial jail time. Like a misdemeanor, a felony conviction does not always result in the charged individual facing jail time, but felonies carry potential imprisonment that ranges all the way up to life in prison without the opportunity for parole. If an individual is sentenced to serve time in jail, he or she will typically do so in a Department of Corrections institution.

Examples of felony crimes in Maryland include, but are not limited to, first degree murder, first degree rape, aggravated assault and distributing a controlled dangerous substance. Individuals charged with felonies appear before a judge and a jury for the opportunity to refute their charges, but many states require that a prosecutor obtain an indictment from a grand jury before charging someone with a felony.

Conviction of a felony not only comes with harsher penalties than a misdemeanor, but it also results in significant life-altering consequences. Depending on the state, individuals convicted of a felony could lose the right to vote or possess or carry firearms, and they may lose the right to seek licensing and employment in certain areas, such as law, education or the military.

If you’ve been arrested and potentially charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, consult with a criminal defense attorney to discuss your options. He or she will be able to argue on your behalf for lesser charges or prevent the conviction from occurring altogether. Additionally, an attorney will be able to explain your rights as a defendant and potential outcomes that may stem from your case.

For more information on the difference between felonies and misdemeanors, or your individual legal circumstances, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Alperstein & Diener.