Misdemeanors are those acts more serious than petty offenses. They include resisting arrest, public drunkenness and simple battery. As far as the seriousness of offenses is concerned, misdemeanors are a step below felonies. However, the degree in which the act is carried out also affects its classification. For example, if you were to steal an item costing less than a certain dollar amount, you would be committing petty larceny, which is a misdemeanor. However, were the item to cost more than the said amount, you would be committing grand theft, which is a felony.

Consequently, the punishment meted out to those committing misdemeanors, may be a higher fine than what would be paid for a petty offense. If a jail sentence is to be served, it is likely that it would be served for not more than a year, usually at a local, city or county jail. Misdemeanor offenses are usually dealt with in special courts with abbreviated procedures. Accordingly, in several jurisdictions, court-appointed attorneys are not provided to those who can’t afford them. Generally, a grand jury is not required to investigate and charge misdemeanors, which is usually carried out by written complaint or information. However, if a defendant desires a jury trial, he may have to make a request and pay a fee to procure one. A misdemeanor charge may be heard by a grand jury, if it is accompanied by one or more felonies.

There is hope for those with a misdemeanor on their record as they are allowed to vote, serve in the military, serve on juries and practice in licensed professions like being a lawyer. Better yet, in states where three strikes laws are adopted, misdemeanors are not counted as "strikes". Nonetheless, in cases where two prior felony convictions exist, a misdemeanor added to the list could be considered the "third strike" offense. If this were to happen, it could result in a mandatory 25-year to life prison sentence.


Felonies comprise serious crimes such as robbery, kidnapping, rape, and murder. A broad classification made by the federal government and most states, is that felonies are all crimes that carry a maximum sentence of more than one year, served at a a state or federal prison. However, if the crime is a capital offense like first-degree murder, even a death penalty may be awarded. In felony cases, the defendant has the right to a court-appointed lawyer. A grand jury trial may be mandatory in some jurisdictions.

A person convicted of a felony is likely to have more restrictions on their rights (collateral consequences). This may include professional restrictions (they cannot be lawyers or teachers), not being allowed to serve on juries, losing the right to vote, being prohibited from owning guns, or serving in the military, and in some cases, having to register as an offender (e.g., sex offender or narcotics offender).


I hope this article has made clear the difference between misdemeanors and felonies, as well as details such as misdemeanor vs felony theft. In all cases, while federal laws are constant, state laws defer. For this reason, a person facing any charges must get in touch with a qualified Lead Counsel criminal law lawyer from the state, to verify the state’s procedure for charging a misdemeanor or felony crime.

Whether you have be accused of committing a misdemeanor or a felony your freedom and life could be at stake, thus it would be in your best interest to consult an Attorney to best assess your legal options. To receive a free consultation contact the Law Office of Robert C. Smith by completing our online Client contact form or call 909-563-8644.