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What’s the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

In the United States, the criminal justice system divides crimes into different categories based on their seriousness. Infractions are the least serious crime you can commit, felonies are the most serious, and misdemeanors fall somewhere in between.

Aside from varying levels of seriousness, the biggest difference between misdemeanors and felonies is their punishment. Felonies often carry large fines, prison sentences, and permanent loss of freedoms while misdemeanors carry more temporary consequences.

Fines and Infractions

Most people have experienced infractions in their everyday life. Traffic tickets, for example, are considered infractions. Generally, infractions are resolved with fines. People spend little to no time and court, and jail time only comes into eh question when fines are left unpaid.


The federal definition of a misdemeanor is a crime that carries a potential jail term of 1 year or less. These crimes are more serious than infractions but less serious than felonies. Misdemeanors often involve an arrest, but people who are convicted typically serve their sentence in local jails instead of prisons.

Class A misdemeanors can carry up to 1 year of jail time, Class B misdemeanors can carry up to 6 months of jail time, and Class C misdemeanors may lead to 30 days or less in jail.


The federal government defines felonies as crimes in which the punishment exceeds 1 year. States may define felonies differently (or not at all), and many definitions indicate where and how the sentence will be served. In Idaho, for example, a felony is “a crime punishable by death or by imprisonment in the State prison.”

Felonies are also divided by class. Class A felonies indicate life imprisonment or the death penalty, Class B felonies carry 25 or more years, Class C felonies carry 10-24 years, Class D felonies indicate 5-9 years, and Class E felonies carry more than a 1-year sentence and less than a 5-year sentence.

The Statute of Limitations

Another major difference between felonies and misdemeanors is the statute(s) of limitations or filing deadline(s). In Idaho, most misdemeanors are not enforceable if the prosecutor does not bring charges within one year of the crime. Some felonies, on the other hand, do not have statutes of limitations. For instance, the prosecutor can always bring charges for crimes like murder, manslaughter, or rape.

Charged With a Crime?

If you’ve been charged with anything above an infraction, you will need a dependable legal defense. Even a DUI can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances.

At May, Rammell & Wells, we evaluate each case carefully and help you pursue the best possible outcome. We have been practicing criminal defense since 1976 and have more than 70 years of collective experience to dedicate to your case.

Don’t trust your future to just anyone. Get small firm attention and large firm results by calling May, Rammell & Wells at (208) 623-8021 or requesting a consultation online today.


What Makes Our Firm Different?

  • 70+ Years of Collective Experience
  • Passionate About the Pursuit of Justice
  • Full-Service Law Firm
  • We Are Not Afraid to Take Your Case to Trial
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