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Felony vs. Crime: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on December 23, 2023
A felony is a serious crime typically punishable by imprisonment for more than a year, whereas a crime is any illegal act that can be a misdemeanor or a felony.

Key Differences

A felony is considered a high-level offense, often involving significant harm or threat to persons or property. Crime, in its broader definition, encompasses both felonies and less severe offenses known as misdemeanors.
Felonies typically carry severe penalties, including lengthy prison sentences, whereas crimes, depending on their severity, may result in lighter sentences, fines, or community service.
Examples of felonies include murder, rape, and armed robbery, all of which are treated as serious legal violations. Crimes, on the other hand, can range from minor traffic violations to these serious felonies.
The classification of an illegal act as a felony typically implies a more rigorous legal process, including the possibility of a trial by jury. In contrast, crimes, especially lesser ones like misdemeanors, might be resolved with simpler legal procedures.
In the legal system, felonies often result in a loss of certain civil rights, such as voting or possessing firearms. However, not all crimes lead to such consequences, especially if they are misdemeanors or minor infractions.

Comparison Chart


High-level offense
Can range from minor to major offenses


Murder, rape, armed robbery
Traffic violations, theft, murder

Legal Penalties

Long-term imprisonment, possibly life sentence
Varies from fines to imprisonment

Legal Process

Often involves trial by jury
Varies, simpler procedures for minor offenses

Impact on Civil Rights

May result in loss of certain rights
Not all crimes lead to loss of civil rights

Felony and Crime Definitions


A felony is a serious crime usually punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.
Armed robbery is classified as a felony due to its violent nature.


A crime is an unlawful act punishable by a state or other authority.
Tax evasion is a crime involving the deliberate avoidance of paying taxes.


A felony is a grave offense against public law.
Being convicted of a felony like embezzlement can result in a lengthy jail sentence.


A crime is an action or omission that constitutes an offense and may be prosecuted by the state.
Driving under the influence is a dangerous crime with serious consequences.


Felony refers to major crimes considered more severe than misdemeanors.
Committing a felony like arson can lead to significant legal consequences.


Crime encompasses a wide range of illegal behaviors, from minor to serious offenses.
Vandalism is a crime that damages public or private property.


Felony encompasses serious criminal offenses that are punishable by severe penalties.
Drug trafficking is often prosecuted as a felony.


A crime is any act that violates a law and is punishable by the state or other authority.
Shoplifting is considered a crime and can lead to arrest and prosecution.


A felony is a high-level criminal act that carries major legal ramifications.
In many regions, manslaughter is treated as a felony.


Crime refers to illegal activities or actions that go against legal codes.
Cybercrime has become increasingly prevalent in the digital age.


One of several serious crimes, such as murder, rape, or robbery, punishable by a more stringent sentence than that given for a misdemeanor.


An act committed in violation of law where the consequence of conviction by a court is punishment, especially where the punishment is a serious one such as imprisonment.


Any of several crimes in early English law that were punishable by forfeiture of land or goods and by capital or other serious punishment.


Unlawful activity
Statistics relating to violent crime.


A serious criminal offense, which, under United States federal law, is punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year or by death.


A serious offense, especially one in violation of morality.


An act on the part of the vassal which cost him his fee by forfeiture.


An unjust, senseless, or disgraceful act or condition
It's a crime to waste all that paper.


An offense which occasions a total forfeiture either lands or goods, or both, at the common law, and to which capital or other punishment may be added, according to the degree of guilt.


(countable) A specific act committed in violation of the law.


A serious crime (such as murder or arson)


(countable) Any great sin or wickedness; iniquity.


That which occasions crime.


(uncountable) Criminal acts collectively.


(uncountable) The habit or practice of committing crimes.
Crime doesn’t pay.


To subject to disciplinary punishment.


(nonce word) To commit crime.


Any violation of law, either divine or human; an omission of a duty commanded, or the commission of an act forbidden by law.


Gross violation of human law, in distinction from a misdemeanor or trespass, or other slight offense. Hence, also, any aggravated offense against morality or the public welfare; any outrage or great wrong.


Any great wickedness or sin; iniquity.
No crime was thine, if 'tis no crime to love.


That which occasion crime.
The tree of life, the crime of our first father's fall.


(criminal law) an act punishable by law; usually considered an evil act;
A long record of crimes


An evil act not necessarily punishable by law;
Crimes of the heart


Can felonies be expunged from a record?

Depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances, some felonies may be expunged.

What's a common example of a minor crime?

A common minor crime is a traffic violation, like speeding.

Can a crime be non-criminal?

No, by definition, a crime is always a violation of law and thus criminal.

What impact does a crime have on society?

Crimes can impact society by harming individuals, damaging property, and undermining trust.

Are all felonies violent?

Not all felonies are violent; some, like embezzlement, are non-violent but still serious.

What rights are lost with a felony conviction?

Felony convictions can lead to the loss of rights like voting or owning firearms.

How do countries differ in defining a felony?

Different countries have varying definitions and classifications for what constitutes a felony.

Is theft always a felony?

Theft can be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the value of the stolen property.

How is felony sentencing determined?

Felony sentencing is influenced by the crime's severity, the defendant's history, and legal guidelines.

What are white-collar crimes?

White-collar crimes are financially motivated, non-violent crimes, often committed in business contexts.

What makes a crime a felony?

A crime is classified as a felony if it is a serious offense with significant legal penalties.

Is shoplifting a felony or a crime?

Shoplifting is a crime and can be a felony if the value stolen is above a certain threshold.

Can a felony charge be reduced?

In some cases, a felony charge can be reduced, often through plea bargaining or demonstrating mitigating circumstances.

What role does intent play in defining a crime?

Intent can be a key factor in defining and prosecuting crimes, particularly in differentiating between types of offenses.

Can one be imprisoned for minor crimes?

Imprisonment for minor crimes is possible, especially if repeated or with aggravating factors.

Are all illegal acts considered crimes?

Most illegal acts are considered crimes, but some may be classified as infractions or violations.

Can juveniles be charged with felonies?

Yes, juveniles can be charged with felonies, but the legal process and sentencing may differ.

Can a crime be unintentional?

Some crimes, like negligence, can be unintentional but still punishable.

Are drug offenses always felonies?

Drug offenses vary and can be misdemeanors or felonies, depending on factors like the drug type and amount.

How do misdemeanors differ from felonies?

Misdemeanors are less severe crimes compared to felonies and usually carry lighter penalties.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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