What is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and Felony?

Being charged with a crime can be terrifying. You probably have a lot of questions: What is the crime? What kind of trouble will I get in? What are the penalties? One of the biggest questions might be in regards to the classification of the crime for which you have been charged. The two most common crimes classifications are misdemeanors and felonies. Each of these have different characteristics and carry a vast difference in penalties.

Misdemeanor vs. Felony

In Illinois, a misdemeanor is a lower level crime than a felony. Generally, misdemeanors are for offenses that are less serious. Felonies are the most serious crimes that can be committed. One of the biggest differences between these classifications is the potential for jail time. A misdemeanor can only be punished by a jail term maximum of one year, whereas a felony carries a minimum of one year of time in jail. Time for misdemeanors is usually served in county jail, and jail time for felonies occurs in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

It is important to note that a person might not have to serve jail time, for either a misdemeanor or a felony. There are other penalties available for the judge to choose from, depending on the crime.

Aside from a crime being designated as a misdemeanor or a felony, there are classifications within each. A misdemeanor is divided into classes A-C, with A being the most severe of the crimes. The most serious felony is a Class X. From Class X, there are Classes 1-4. Class 1 is the more serious crime, and Class 4 is the least severe.

Misdemeanors and felonies have different impacts on your criminal record. Jobs, landlords, and government agencies are just a few examples of organizations that conduct background checks on potential employees or tenants. A misdemeanor is likely to be less of a “red flag” because of the less serious nature of the crime. Some misdemeanors can be sealed, meaning that they are essentially taken off of your criminal record and will not show up on background check. Sealing a misdemeanor is giving yourself a “do over.” Felonies, on the other hand, are generally not sealable. There are only a few felonies that can be sealed on your record. A felony on a background check could keep you from getting the apartment or job of your dreams.

Why are There Classifications?

Making sure the “punishment fits the crime” is a big consideration in sentencing and criminal law. Committing murder, for example, would obviously carry a higher penalty than stealing a shirt from a department store.

It is important to not that all crimes should be taken seriously. Severity of crime, in this sense, is taking about the penalties associated with it. Saying a misdemeanor is less severe is not discounting the seriousness of being charged with a crime or an injury to the perpetrator or victim.

If you have been charged with a crime, either a misdemeanor or a felony, contact the Joliet attorneys at Hamilton & Antonsen, Ltd. We will explain your options in any given charge and come up with the plan to deal with it. Contact us today.