The criminal justice system can be extraordinarily complex, and it is necessary to understand its basic tenets. Understanding the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is very important.

Being charged with a misdemeanor can result in a very different experience as compared to a felony. According to Findlaw, misdemeanors are less serious than felonies and carry lighter punishments upon conviction.

What happens if I am charged with a misdemeanor?

The cardinal defining trait of a misdemeanor is that it carries jail time of no more than one year. Anything that has a jail time longer than this is a felony. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies and they include crimes like vandalism, loitering, or disturbing the peace.

Since misdemeanors are less serious, prosecutors also have greater leeway in how to handle misdemeanor cases. Many misdemeanors never even make it to court, prosecutors and defense may decide to strike a plea bargain. If the convicted serves any jail time for a misdemeanor, it is in a county jail as compared to a high-security prison.

What happens if I am charged with a felony?

Felonious crimes are much more serious in nature and include acts such as murder, kidnapping, arson, and rape. The punishments for felonies can range from 5 years in prison all the way up to life imprisonment and the death penalty.

Because felonies carry much more serious consequences than misdemeanors, prosecutors are less flexible in their approach. This is because they have to ensure that the rights of the defendant stay protected.

Understanding the nature of the charges against you is the first step toward working within the criminal justice system.