By Legal Lad
First, a disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, the legal information in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Further, I do not intend to create an attorney-client relationship with any listener.
The law treats misdemeanors and felonies differently. What’s the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony, and why do some crimes seem to be both?
The fundamental distinction: the penalty and the power of imprisonment. This refers not to a conviction, but rather whether a person may be punished for a certain length of time or in a specific type of prison.
Misdemeanor: This is generally a crime punishable by a year or less in prison, or only in a county or local jail.
Felonies: These can have more serious consequences than misdemeanors. In addition to the longer punishment, a person convicted of a felony loses the right to possess firearms or obtain certain licenses, such as a hunting or a
Is stealing Legos a felony or a misdemeanor?(pasukaru67/Flickr)
fishing license. In some states, a convicted felon loses the right to vote. A felon is required to disclose his status when applying for jobs. A repeat felon can face much harsher punishments, especially in states that maintain three-strikes laws. All crimes punishable by death are felonies.
Wobblers: This is a crime that can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor based on the circumstances. A wobbler can also be charged as a felony but reduced to a misdemeanor by the sentencing court pursuant to a statute.
NOTE: Some misdemeanors can become felonies based on an aggravating characteristic. Punching someone in a bar fight might be a misdemeanor, but if the assailant uses brass knuckles, the weapon may determine it as a felony. Whether drug possession is a felony or misdemeanor is usually based on a sliding scale of volume (20 pounds = felony, less than 1 oz. = misdemeanor).
Infractions: Are acts that are against the law, but only punishable by a fine. Traffic violations are the most common examples.