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


Criminal charges are generally pretty serious, but they tend to be notably complicated as well. Simply hearing that you’re being charged with a misdemeanor might be intimidating, yet what does it really mean for you?

In this article, we’re going to go over the major differences between felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions and what the possible ramifications might be in Illinois and Indiana for each type.


Image via Flickr by weiss_paarz_photos

What Are Felonies?

Felonies are considered the most serious type of charge that you might face. In these cases, you’re usually endangering the welfare or the life of another person, though this isn’t always the case.

There are set crimes that lead to felony charges; however, if you’re a repeat offender in your state, prosecutors might bump your misdemeanor charges up to a felony in some more serious cases.

Here are some examples of crimes that are considered felonies:

  • Murder and manslaughter.
  • Assault and battery.
  • Theft and burglary.
  • Kidnapping.
  • Rape and sexual assault.
  • Financial crimes.

The Ramifications of a Felony

All felonies are not the same in terms of punishment. When you’re facing felony charges, they’re usually identified by their level of seriousness, with more serious felonies leading to greater punishments.

Here’s what you might be facing when you’re charged with a felony:

  • Fines: Depending on the type of felony that you’re charged with, you may have to pay hefty fines. These fines might be paid to victims of your crimes as a form of restitution or directly to the state to cover the cost of any investigations or damages that you might have caused.
  • Probation: Jails and prisons are extremely overpopulated, which is why the government is taking the necessary steps to limit the number of inmates incarcerated in America. By successfully completing probation without any violations, you might be able to avoid going to jail at all when you’re charged with a felony.
  • Prison time: This punishment is saved for more serious crimes and is much more likely for those with a prior criminal record. Felonies typically involve at least one year in prison, but more serious crimes could result in a life sentence after a jury trial.
  • Death penalty: The death penalty is reserved for crimes that seriously endanger the welfare of others. Not all states allow the death penalty, so you’ll have to check to see if your state does. Indiana allows the death penalty, while Illinois does not. 

It should also be noted that felonies will always remain on your permanent record. 

What Are Misdemeanors?

Misdemeanors are considered much less serious than felonies, but they can still carry some major punishments. Most misdemeanors are referred to as “low-level offenses,” with the punishment directly correlating to the crime you’ve committed.

Misdemeanors are somewhat of a middle ground in terms of crime. They’re not nearly as serious as felonies, but they’re considered a slight step up from common infractions like traffic offenses.

Here are some examples of crimes that are considered misdemeanors:

  • Trespassing.
  • Petty theft.
  • Drug possession.
  • Simple assault.
  • Public intoxication.
  • Disorderly conduct.

The Ramifications of a Misdemeanor

Though much less severe than felonies, misdemeanors do still carry punishments that the average person would see as pretty intense. As with felonies, the actual punishment you receive will depend on the crime.

  • Community service: If you’ve never faced charges before or the crime you committed is rather minor, you might only be facing community service. The judge will order a certain number of community service hours to be completed by a certain deadline, at which point your punishment is over.
  • Probation: Probation is more common for repeat offenders or some of the more serious felonies. If you complete your probation without violating it in any sense, you’ll be able to completely avoid any jail time that you might have been facing.
  • Fines: Most misdemeanors come with minor fines associated with the specific charges you’re facing. The fines are typically much less severe than those you might be forced to pay when you’re facing a felony.
  • Jail time: Misdemeanors usually carry a sentence of less than a year, so you’ll be spending your time in the county jail rather than state prison.

What Are Infractions?

For the sake of comparison and context, let’s briefly look at infractions and how they compare to other more serious crimes (misdemeanors and felonies). You’ve probably been charged with an infraction in the past without even realizing that’s what it was called. Infractions are usually saved for traffic tickets, but can really be any type of ticket that a police officer might write to you.

Infractions usually signify that you’ve broken the law or local code in some way, but not seriously enough to warrant jail time, probation, or any excessive fines. They’re usually pretty minor and are easily handled by simply paying the ticket.

Here are some examples of crimes that are considered infractions:

  • Traffic tickets.
  • Jaywalking.
  • Drinking in public.
  • Fishing or hunting without a license.
  • Building violations.
  • Littering.

The Ramifications of Infractions

All infractions involve paying a fine as a form of punishment for your unlawful act. The actual fine that you’ll be required to pay depends on the infraction that you committed.

There are a few factors that impact the specific fine that you’ll be required to pay:

  • The severity of the crime.
  • Whether or not you’re a repeat offender.
  • Physical damage you might have caused.

Imprisonment: Felonies vs. Misdemeanors

Whether or not you’re facing imprisonment greatly depends on the severity of the crime you committed and whether or not you have a previous criminal record. What most people aren’t aware of is that there’s a major difference between the types of imprisonment you’re facing for each type of crime.

  • Felonies = Prison: Felonies call for more than a year imprisonment, which will send you to state prison rather than county jail. Prison is where the state houses the most dangerous or consistent offenders.
  • Misdemeanors = Jail: Because misdemeanors are much less intense than felonies, you’ll only be facing a maximum of one year in county jail. The county jail is where each county houses those charged with minor crimes.

Understanding the criminal charges you face can be complex. Contact us to learn more about the ramifications of different charges and get help building a case that gets you as reduced a consequence as possible. 

The post Felony vs. Misdemeanor: What’s the Actual Difference? appeared first on Alvarez Law Office | Injury Law Firm in Indiana and Illinois.

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