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What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?

Last week, our blog post was about how shoplifting can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony in Arizona. That fact brings up the important point about what differences are present between misdemeanors and felonies. If you are facing criminal charges, it is critical that you know the difference and how they can affect your case.

What is a felony?

A felony charge is more serious than a misdemeanor. Generally, these charges are associated with a period of incarceration that is greater than one year if you are convicted. Most incarceration sentences are served in prison instead of jail. Crimes including rape, murder and higher-value thefts are some examples of felony charges.

What is a misdemeanor?

Misdemeanor charges are less serious than felony charges. Generally, these crimes have an incarceration possibility of under one year if you are convicted. In most cases, any incarceration period is served in a local jail instead of in prison. Lower-level thefts and minor crimes are often charged as misdemeanors. State laws set forth which crimes are classified as misdemeanor charges.

Why does it matter how a charge is classified?

If you are facing criminal charges, there are several ways that a charge classification can affect you. For example, all criminal convictions go on your criminal record. While a misdemeanor might affect your job or housing prospects, a felony is much more likely to do so.

No matter what kind of criminal charge you are facing, you should understand your options for dealing with that charge. Knowing what options are available might help you to make an informed choice about your defense.

Source: FindLaw, "What Distinguishes a Misdemeanor From a Felony?," accessed Dec. 17, 2015

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