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The Differences Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor


Criminal offenses can fall into one of two categories: felonies or misdemeanors. These two terms appear on a daily basis in the legal field, but many people are unsure about their specific meanings. To shed some light on this matter, we will explore the differences between a felony and a misdemeanor, reviewing their definitions, severity, consequences and implications for individuals convicted of either variety of crime.


Before delving into the differences, let's define what constitutes a felony and a misdemeanor.


What is a Felony?

A felony refers to the most serious crimes an individual can commit. While punishments for a felony conviction can vary widely depending on the specific offense, jurisdiction and the defendant's criminal history, felonies overall carry severe punishments in the form of significant fines, one or more years spent in the Wisconsin state prison system, or both. These offenses often involve violence, distribution or production of illicit drugs, or the victim experiencing substantial financial loss. Felonies are categorized into nine different classes based on their severity. The classes and examples of a crime typically categorized in that class are as follows:

  • Class I (the least severe punishment): Up to 3 1/2 years in prison, fines up to $10,000

    • Possession of less than 200 grams of Marijuana with intent to sell

    • Theft of property worth $2,500 to $5,000

  • Class H: Up to 6 years in prison, fines up to $10,000

    • Aggravated battery causing great bodily harm

    • Theft of property worth $5,000 to $10,000

  • Class G: Up to 10 years in prison, fines up to $25,000

    • OWI 5th offense

    • Possession of less than 1 gram of cocaine with the intent to sell

  • Class F: Up to 12 1/2 years in prison, fines up to $25,000

    • 1st degree reckless endangerment

    • OWI causing great bodily harm

  • Class E: Up to 15 years in prison, fines up to $50,000

    • Hit and run involving great bodily harm

    • Possession of 5 to 15 grams of cocaine with the intent to sell

  • Class D: Up to 25 years in prison, fines up to $100,000

    • OWI vehicular homicide

    • Possession of 10 to 50 grams of amphetamines with the intent to sell

  • Class C: Up to 40 years in prison, fines up to $100,000

    • Arson

    • Causing death by administering, making or selling schedule one or two narcotic drugs

  • Class B: Up to 60 years in prison

    • Second degree intentional homicide

    • First degree reckless homicide

  • Class A (the most severe punishment): Up to life in prison

    • First degree intentional homicide


What is a Misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is a less serious criminal offense when compared to a felony. These offenses generally involve non-violent crimes, first offense driving crimes or petty theft. While jail time can be involved, misdemeanor sentences typically do not exceed one year. Instead, offenders may face probation, community service, fines, restitution, mandatory classes or counseling. In Wisconsin, misdemeanors are divided into different classes or levels, with higher classes carrying more severe punishments. The classes and examples of a misdemeanor crime typically categorized in that class are as follows:

  • Class C (the least severe punishment): Up to 30 days in jail, fines up to $500

    • Trespassing

    • Disorderly Conduct

  • Class B: Up to 90 days in jail, fines up to $1,000

    • Violation of a restraining order

    • Driving with a suspended license

  • Class A (the most severe punishment): Up to 9 months in jail, fines up to $10,000


Although the severity of the crime and associated punishment varies depending on the criminal charges, the legal consequences of being convicted of a felony or misdemeanor are significant and can have lasting effects on an individual's life.


What are the Legal Consequences of a Felony?

Felony convictions have far-reaching consequences. These can include the loss of certain civil rights, such as the right to vote or possess firearms. Additionally, having a felony conviction on your record can negatively impact employment prospects, efforts to obtain a professional license, housing opportunities and even child custody arrangements. Some felonies may also result in the requirement to register as a sex offender.


How Does a Felony Impact Your Criminal Record?

Felony convictions remain on an individual's criminal record permanently, unless expunged or pardoned. This means that they will appear on background checks conducted by employers, landlords and other entities. Having a felony on your record can significantly limit employment opportunities and hinder future prospects for the rest of your life.


What are the Legal Consequences of a Misdemeanor?

While misdemeanors carry less severe consequences than felonies, they can still have a detrimental impact on various aspects of an individual's life. Misdemeanor convictions can result in difficulties finding employment, obtaining loans or securing housing. They may also affect immigration status or professional licenses, although the consequences are generally less severe than felonies and may be mitigated over time.


Another important distinction between felonies and misdemeanors lies in how they appear on criminal records and impact background checks.


How Does a Misdemeanor Impact Your Criminal Record?

Misdemeanors also appear on criminal records, but they may be eligible for expungement or sealing in certain cases. Expungement or sealing removes the conviction from public records, appearing as if the individual had never committed the crime at all. This can greatly improve employment prospects and reduce the impact of the offense on a person's life.


Have you Been Charged with a Felony or Misdemeanor?

Understanding the differences between a felony and a misdemeanor is essential for anyone facing criminal charges or seeking knowledge about the criminal justice system, and the experienced lawyers at The Everson Law Firm can assist you in understanding the many in’s and out’s of the judicial process. Contact The Everson Law Firm today and find the professional ally you need for your legal issues.

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