Difference Wiki

Felony vs. Misdemeanor: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on October 16, 2023
A felony is a serious crime usually punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or by death, while a misdemeanor is a lesser offense with a lighter penalty, usually less than a year of imprisonment.

Key Differences

A felony is considered a serious crime that often involves violence, resulting in severe penalties, while a misdemeanor is regarded as a less serious offense, usually punishable by lighter sentences. Felonies can lead to long-term imprisonment or even capital punishment in some jurisdictions, highlighting the grave nature of such offenses, whereas misdemeanors typically result in shorter jail terms, fines, or community service.
Felony charges are typically levied for crimes like murder, rape, and armed robbery, reflecting the serious harm or threat they pose to individuals and society. In contrast, misdemeanor offenses might include petty theft, public intoxication, and minor traffic violations, which, while unlawful, are not considered as severely detrimental to the public welfare.
The conviction of a felony often comes with long-lasting repercussions, affecting one’s voting rights, employment opportunities, and ability to own firearms. In comparison, a misdemeanor conviction might lead to temporary inconveniences and restrictions but generally does not entail the enduring legal disabilities that a felony conviction might impose.
The categorization of an act as a felony or a misdemeanor is largely dependent on the legal stipulations and definitions provided by the jurisdiction in question. Some acts may be classified as misdemeanors in one jurisdiction but may be considered felonies in another, emphasizing the variability in legal classifications and interpretations.
The legal processes for a felony usually involve a more comprehensive and rigorous examination due to the severity of the crime. Misdemeanor cases often have simpler procedures and may not require a grand jury indictment or a unanimous jury decision for conviction, reflecting the comparative simplicity and lesser severity of these cases.

Comparison Chart


Serious crime with severe consequences.
Lesser offense with lighter consequences.


Imprisonment for more than one year or death.
Imprisonment for less than one year or fines.


Murder, rape, armed robbery.
Petty theft, public intoxication, minor traffic violations.

Long-term Impact

Can affect voting, employment, firearm ownership.
Typically does not entail enduring legal disabilities.

Legal Process

Rigorous examination, may require grand jury.
Simpler procedures, usually does not require grand jury.

Felony and Misdemeanor Definitions


A grave criminal act usually involving violence or significant harm.
Murder is categorized as a felony because it involves taking another person’s life.


A minor wrongdoing punishable by less severe penalties than a felony.
Jaywalking is a misdemeanor that usually results in a small fine.


A major crime characterized by the potential for severe punishment.
Drug trafficking is a felony that can result in lengthy imprisonment.


A legal infraction of lesser gravity than a felony, leading to milder consequences.
Disorderly conduct is a common misdemeanor in many jurisdictions.


An unlawful act regarded as highly detrimental to individuals and society.
The defendant was charged with a felony due to the severity of his actions.


A lesser criminal act typically resulting in fines or short-term imprisonment.
Shoplifting small items is often classified as a misdemeanor.


A serious crime typically punishable by death or imprisonment for more than one year.
Armed robbery is considered a felony due to its violent nature.


An offense of lower seriousness usually not involving violence.
A traffic violation is generally considered a misdemeanor.


An offense of high seriousness resulting in severe penalties.
Conviction of a felony can lead to long-lasting legal and social repercussions.


A violation of law regarded as less severe and causing lesser harm to the public.
Public intoxication is deemed a misdemeanor in many places due to its limited harm.


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


A misdeed.


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


(Law) A criminal offense that is less serious than a felony and generally punishable by a fine, a jail term of up to a year, or both.


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


(legal) A crime usually punishable upon conviction by a small fine or by a short term of imprisonment. In the USA, misdemeanants usually are incarcerated in county jail for less than one year, but felons usually are incarcerated in state or federal prison for more than one year. Crimes which are punishable by large fines or by longer imprisonment are sometimes called felonies.


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


Any act of misbehavior.


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.


Ill behavior; evil conduct; fault.


A serious crime (such as murder or arson)


A crime less than a felony.


A crime less serious than a felony


Is a felony more serious than a misdemeanor?

Yes, a felony is a more serious crime with more severe consequences compared to a misdemeanor.

Can you get probation for a felony?

Yes, in some cases, individuals convicted of a felony may receive probation instead of, or in addition to, imprisonment.

Do felonies always lead to imprisonment?

While felonies often lead to imprisonment, specific sentences depend on jurisdiction, legal representation, and individual case circumstances.

Does a misdemeanor affect employment?

A misdemeanor can potentially affect employment opportunities, but its impact is generally less severe compared to a felony.

Can a misdemeanor turn into a felony?

Yes, under certain circumstances and depending on jurisdiction, a misdemeanor can be elevated to a felony due to aggravating factors.

Can felonies be expunged?

Depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the felony, some felonies can be expunged or sealed, but many remain on the record permanently.

Can a misdemeanor prevent gun ownership?

Certain misdemeanors, especially those involving violence, may affect an individual’s ability to legally own firearms.

Can you travel with a felony conviction?

A felony conviction can significantly restrict international travel, with many countries denying entry to individuals with such records.

Is jail time mandatory for felonies?

Jail time is common for felonies, but sentencing can vary, and alternatives like probation may be available depending on the case.

Are all violent crimes considered felonies?

While many violent crimes are felonies, some may be classified as misdemeanors depending on their severity and the jurisdiction’s laws.

Can you vote with a misdemeanor conviction?

In most places, a misdemeanor conviction does not impact an individual’s voting rights, unlike some felony convictions.

Are misdemeanor arrests public record?

Yes, misdemeanor arrests and convictions are generally public record, but accessibility can vary by jurisdiction.

Are repeat misdemeanors treated as felonies?

In some jurisdictions, repeat misdemeanor offenses may lead to enhanced penalties or be elevated to felony status.

Can misdemeanors be appealed?

Yes, individuals convicted of a misdemeanor have the right to appeal the conviction or sentence.

Do felonies always involve a trial?

Not always. Many felony cases are resolved through plea agreements before reaching a trial.
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
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons