Going through the criminal justice system can be frustrating, and it is important to understand basic terms related to the law. For the most part, crimes fall into two major groups: felonies and misdemeanors.

There are several differences between these two categories. According to FindLaw, felonies are far more serious than misdemeanors and carry heavier penalties and longer jail sentences.

What is a misdemeanor?

The biggest difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is the amount of time that you may spend in jail if the courts convict you of the charges. By definition, a misdemeanor offense comes with no longer than one year behind bars at maximum.

It is also more common to plea-bargain with misdemeanors. Prosecutors have a lot of leeway when it comes to punishing misdemeanor offenses, and many times the accused will not see a single day in jail. If a person does go to jail for a misdemeanor offense, it is likely that they will serve the time in a county jail rather than a federal prison.

What is a felony?

Felonies are the most serious crimes. Common examples of felonious crimes are murder, rape, arson, and kidnapping. The punishment for these crimes may include life in prison or the death penalty. Since felonies carry such harsh sentences, criminal procedure is more important in a felony case to ensure that the courts protect the rights of the defendant.

Generally, the lowest tier of felony carries a sentence of less than 5 years in prison but more than one year. This is in contrast with misdemeanors where the sentence can be no longer than one year.