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The differences between misdemeanors and felonies

On Behalf of | Feb 8, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

In California, the legal system categorizes crimes into two primary classifications: misdemeanors and felonies. This distinction is both broadly important and consequential for individual cases, as it influences the severity of the punishments a defendant may face, the legal procedures involved in their case and the long-term impacts on their life that may arise in the event of a conviction. 

For these reasons, understanding the differences between these two types of offenses is a good idea for anyone who is navigating criminal charges filed by the state of California. Once a better understanding of one’s personal charges has been achieved, a defendant can work with their legal team to better ensure that their defense strategy is as strong as it can be. 


Misdemeanors are considered to be less severe crimes compared to felonies. They typically involve less serious harm or threat to persons or property than felonies do. Examples of misdemeanor offenses in California include petty theft, simple assault, public intoxication and driving under the influence (DUI) without causing bodily harm. The punishment for misdemeanors generally includes fines, probation, community service and imprisonment for up to one year in a county jail. 


Felonies, on the other hand, are more serious crimes that carry stiffer penalties. This classification includes offenses like murder, rape, armed robbery and serious drug crimes. Felonies can result in imprisonment for more than a year, and such sentences are served in state prisons rather than county jails. In addition to longer incarceration periods, individuals convicted of felonies may also face larger fines, mandatory registration as a sex offender for certain crimes and the loss of specific civil rights.

Additionally, felony charges typically require a preliminary hearing before a judge, where the prosecution must show sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. This step is not always necessary for misdemeanor cases, which can proceed directly to trial if a defendant pleads not guilty. 

While a conviction of either kind can impact employment opportunities, housing and professional licensing, the effects of a felony conviction are far more profound and lasting. As a result, while it is always a good idea to seek legal guidance when one is facing criminal charges, this need intensifies when a felony charge is at issue. 

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