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What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, you may be concerned about the potential consequences that await you. The severity of the consequences, as well as how the court system treats your case, will typically depend on which category the crime falls under. Criminal activity falls into one of three categories: infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. Knowing about your criminal charges and preparing a defense against them may lead to a dismissed charge.

Infractions are considered the least serious of the three types. Traffic tickets as well as minor drug possession charges typically fall into this category. The accused will not spend much time in court and will normally have to pay a fine. Failure to pay the fine can result in more serious penalties.

Most crimes fall under the misdemeanor or felony categories. Misdemeanors are divided into high or gross misdemeanors, ordinary misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors. Being convicted of a misdemeanor can lead to up to one year in a local jail. Petty misdemeanors are the least severe of the misdemeanors and result in a fine of $500 or less and six months or less in jail. High and ordinary misdemeanors are more serious than petty misdemeanors but not quite felonies. There is no specific list of crimes that are considered misdemeanors. Prosecutors are given a lot of power when it comes to determining charges, plea bargains and penalties.

Felonies are the most serious category of crime. Those found guilty of a felony can face prison sentences of over one year. Court room procedures are strict during these proceedings due to the severity of the penalties.

The punishment will depend on the severity of the crime. In addition, the severity of the charges will also dictate the procedure by which the case in handled. Accordingly, people facing criminal charges should understand exactly what they are up against.

Source: FindLaw, "What distinguishes a misdemeanor from a felony?," accessed on June 27, 2016

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