Felony vs. Misdemeanor Crimes: What’s the Difference?

Felony vs. Misdemeanor Crimes: What’s the Difference?

In most jurisdictions throughout the U.S., crimes are divided into different categories based on the seriousness of the crime. Indeed, the three major categories include infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies.

Infractions are the least serious of crimes. Misdemeanors and felonies are another story. What’s the difference between these two types of crimes, and what does it mean for you?

What Is a Misdemeanor?

In the state of California, a misdemeanor carries a maximum sentence of one year or less in county jail.

The state has two basic categories for misdemeanors:

  • Gross, or Aggravated: Crimes that are punishable by fines up to $1,000 or more and/or jail time of up to 364 days.
  • Standard: Crimes that are punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or 6 months in jail.

Examples of standard misdemeanors include:

  • Shoplifting
  • Drug possession
  • Trespassing
  • Lastly, petty theft

Examples of gross misdemeanors include:

  • DUI without injury
  • Violating a restraining order
  • Domestic battery

In California, misdemeanor crimes may be punished with misdemeanor probation, which lasts 1-3 years. While on probation, the defendant will have to follow certain rules or agree to certain conditions in order to stay out of jail. These may include:

  • Community service
  • Paying restitution
  • House arrest, or electronic monitoring
  • Lastly, attending counseling or participating in a treatment program

A misdemeanor can result in a criminal record if you:

  • Are found guilty at trial
  • Plead guilty
  • Plead “no contest”

What Is a Felony?

A felony is the most serious type of crime, and it carries a sentence of one year or more in jail or prison. In California, the most serious of felonies are punishable by death.

Felonies may also carry a fine of $10,000 in addition to jail time.

Although felonies are serious crimes with serious punishments, a judge may choose to sentence a defendant with felony probation. In this case, the defendant will serve no more than one year in county jail.

Felony crimes may include (but are not limited to):

  • Rape
  • Murder
  • Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence
  • Lastly, sale of a controlled substance


Felony and misdemeanor convictions can have serious, life-changing consequences. If you find yourself charged with a crime, please contact Kersey Law Office to see how we can assist with your case.

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