When someone is arrested and charged with a crime, it will be categorized as either a misdemeanor or felony. Felonies are crimes of a serious nature that are generally punished at a higher level of seriousness. Misdemeanors on the other hand are lesser offenses that generally punish low to moderate criminal behavior.
Keep in mind that besides a misdemeanor or felony, law enforcement officers can issue you a simple citation or ticket for behavior that breaks the law but is not very egregious. This is commonly referred to as an infraction.
It is important to recognize the difference between these three levels of punishment, which can be difficult depending on the situation. It is especially critical to be aware of what constitutes a felony, since the punishment for these crimes are serious and can result in long prison sentences.
What are the Main Differences Between a Felony, Misdemeanor, and an Infraction?
- Infraction: This is what you can get for committing a petty offense, like littering and a traffic violation. These will most always warrant a court appearance and require you to pay a monetary fine. Some infractions will also be looked at as being civil instead of criminal. However, if you fail to appear in court or pay the fine a judge can issue a warrant for your arrest.
- Misdemeanor: This refers to the class crimes that do not raise to the level of a felony but are more serious than an infraction. The behavior is criminal, but the level of harm is lower and usually there is no violence involved.
- The penalty for a misdemeanor is less intense than what you would receive for a felony crime. This includes but is not limited to prison time under a year, probation, and lower monetary fines.
- Felonies: These are serious crimes where the actions justify a larger punishment. Felonies often include acts of violence or intentional acts meant to harm another person. A comprehensive list of felony examples is included in the next section.
- The major distinguishing feature of a felony crime is that it carries a hefty penalty. This includes prison sentences over a year, longer probation after release, and high monetary fines.
- Some felonies also carry the death penalty. This will depend on whether capital punishment is legal in your state and the nature of the crime.
- Currently, capital punishment is legal in twenty eight states: Alambama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.
It is important to remember that some crimes can be viewed as either a misdemeanor or felony. This will depend on the level of criminal behavior and how your state classifies crimes. For example, there are several levels of theft. Petty theft could be viewed as a misdemeanor or even an infraction. Theft involving a large sum of money or very valuable property will be considered a felony. If you use a weapon during a theft crime, it will be labeled as aggravated theft which is also considered felony theft as opposed to misdemeanor theft.
What Are Some Common Examples of Felonies?
As noted above, state law and the nature of the crime will dictate whether a person’s behavior warrants criminal felony charges. Some acts may be considered felonies in one state but not in another. Some common examples of felony crimes include:
- Sexual assaults;
- Grand theft, which refers to theft valued over a certain amount (usually over $500 cash or property value);
- “Aggravated” crimes, which involve weapons or other aggravating factors. Examples include aggravated stalking, aggravated battery, aggravated theft, and aggravated assault;
- Many white collar crimes;
- Tax fraud;
- Sex trafficking;
- Higher level drug crimes; and
- Serious incidents of domestic violence.
This is not a comprehensive list, as many more things can qualify as a felony. One important thing to know about felonies is that there is usually a classification system with most of these crimes (generally enumerated as Class A,B, and C). The nature of your behavior and how bad of a crime you committed will determine what class of felony that the act is considered under the law.
Another crucial thing to keep in mind is that repeat offenses of the same felonious act will almost always carry heavier penalties. For example, if you are arrested for several incidents of theft your actions will likely be classified as a higher felony carrying harsher penalties.
What Does “Wobbler” Crime Mean?
As noted, some crimes can qualify as a misdemeanor or a felony. This is often called a wobbler crime. Whether to prosecute a crime under a misdemeanor or felony will depend on several factors, like the facts of the case, age of the offender, state law, offender’s criminal history, and the judge’s discretion. For example, many times a judge will decide to label a wobbler crime as a misdemeanor for a first-time offender or a minor.
Common types of wobbler offenses include driving under the influence (DUI), theft, assault, and battery. Some crimes, like homicide, can never be considered a wobbler crime because of the severity of the act committed.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Felony Charge?
Felonies are serious crimes that can carry harsh legal penalties. If you are charged with a felony, you should consult a criminal defense lawyer to review your case, represent you in court, and to help defend against the charges. Depending on the situation, a lawyer can also advocate for a lesser sentence and for a crime to be dropped to a misdemeanor if you are charged with a wobbler crime.