What are the Differences Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

Understanding a misdemeanor vs. felony

When you receive the results of a criminal records search, you may see misdemeanors and felonies listed differently. Though you’ve probably heard the terms “misdemeanor” and “felony” in the public sphere, you may not actually know the difference between them.

Knowing the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is important when trying to interpret a criminal background. So, what should you know?

-Severity of a crime

-The level of violence involved

-Whether or not it’s a repeat offense

-Degree of punishment

Note: The following is a general summation of the differences between these two legal terms. When looking into specific charges and cases, you should verify things based on the actual laws of the state in which a crime occurred and/or was tried.

Differences in Severity

One of the most important differences when it comes to misdemeanors and felonies is the severity of the crime committed. In general, a felony is considered more severe than a misdemeanor. If someone’s convicted of a felony, it’s often because the court believes the crime is severe enough to merit a felony charge on that person’s record for potentially the rest of his or her life.

An individual may be able to clear certain misdemeanor charges from a record by following through on probation, fines or community service. However, felony charges often only clear with a direct order from the governor of a state. You’re more likely to see a felony charge on someone’s record for longer than a misdemeanor charge.

Differences in Violence

Sometimes, a person’s felony conviction happens because the individual committed a more violent crime. For example, murder is a felony charge, while littering may be a misdemeanor charge. If someone commits a violent act, that might be cause for a felony charge rather than a misdemeanor one.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Some assault charges may be deemed misdemeanors, while in some states, even bad check writing could be a felony charge. Felony charges carry with them much stricter punishments and repercussions. But you can’t just assume that someone with a felony charge is violent, while someone with a misdemeanor charge is not.

Differences in Repetition

Sometimes, the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony lies in whether the individual has committed the misdemeanor before. For example, a first-time DUI may just be a misdemeanor. However, if the individual drives under the influence again, the second-time DUI may be a felony charge.

Again, this means you can’t know the severity of a crime based on whether someone’s charge is a felony or a misdemeanor. A DUI constitutes a serious charge whether it’s someone’s first time or repeated times. But its existence as either a felony or a misdemeanor may depend on a number of factors.

Differences in Punishment

Another big difference between a felony and a misdemeanor has to do with the differences in respective punishments. Because many felonies are more severe than misdemeanors, they also come with more severe punishments. That includes both immediate punishments and punishments that have a serious impact on the individual’s future.

When convicted of a felony, many people lose certain rights for at least a few years. Depending on the felony and the state, that may include losing the right to serve on a jury and the right to vote. Misdemeanors tend to come with fines, community service, and probation.

Know More About Anyone You Meet

Misdemeanors and felonies have very different connotations in both legal and social circles. However, it’s not enough to know whether someone’s received a misdemeanor or felony charge. Someone with a felony charge may be completely nonviolent, while someone with a misdemeanor charge may have violent tendencies.

Rather than having to rely on a simple marker of whether or not someone has a felony charge, a criminal records search may be able to give you access to the fuller story. It might show information on whether the charge was a misdemeanor or a felony, as well as information about whether the system dropped charges on a person after assigning them.


In today’s world, you can never be too careful. It’s important to know more about the people you spend time with, whether that person is a romantic partner, a family friend, or even just a neighbor. The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony charge may be substantial.

But it’s more important to know that the people you spend time with aren’t violent, rather than knowing if those people have certain types of criminal records. Instead of needing to trust your gut or trust what someone’s telling you, just use PeopleFinders to try and learn more about the people you know.

Image attribution: Tiko – stock.adobe.com

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