When working within the criminal justice system, it is important to understand the basics of law. Not all crimes are exactly the same, of course: getting a parking ticket or committing petty vandalism is considerably less serious of an offense than first-degree murder.

As this is the case, the criminal justice system has different tiers of offenses. The two most common offenses are either misdemeanors or felonies. According to FindLaw, felonies are more serious than misdemeanors and come with longer jail sentences and heavier punishments.

What is a misdemeanor?

Generally speaking, a misdemeanor is a crime that is punishable by less than one year in jail. Since misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, often prosecutors have increased freedom when working with these cases. Plea bargains are very common, and it is usually possible to avoid a heavy jail sentence if charged with a misdemeanor.

If an offender cannot avoid incarceration, typically a misdemeanor charge will land said offender in county jail rather than high security jail.

What is a felony?

Felony crimes are the most serious crimes against society and involved varieties of murder charge, rape, kidnapping, arson, and others. A felony crime, by definition, comes with a jail sentence of longer than one year. In some states, like California, felonies may also carry the death penalty.

Criminal procedure in felony cases tends to be far more strict, given that the punishments are much more severe. Persons receiving jail sentences from felony charges will often end up in high security prison. The fines associated with felonious charges are also considerably heavier than those associated with misdemeanor charges.