Explaining the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor

In Michigan, like all other U.S. states, crimes are divided into two basic types according to their severity. The more severe crimes are felonies, while less severe crimes are misdemeanors. Both these categories are broken down further into sub-categories, again based on their perceived severity. The more serious the crime, the greater is the penalty.

In fact, all criminal convictions should be taken very seriously. Even the least serious misdemeanor can have serious consequences for the person convicted. It can ruin that person’s chance of keeping their job. It can affect that person’s family. It can make it hard to get back into the same type of job or career after the jail or prison sentence has been served. It is always advisable to use a criminal defense attorney to represent you if charged with a crime. The attorney may be able to have your charge dismissed or the penalties reduced if conviction cannot be avoided.

Jail or prison?

These two terms are often used interchangeably by the general public, but when used in the legal sense, they are different. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, you will probably end up in a county jail, even if it is only for a few days. The maximum time spent in a county jail is a12 months. If you are convicted of a first degree misdemeanor you may receive 12 months prison in a county jail as a maximum sentence, plus a probable fine and other penalties such as probation.

If you are convicted of a felony charge, you will most likely spend time in a state prison. State prisons are designed to hold inmates for longer periods. They have greater facilities for long term stays, and have programs which are intended to reduce recidivism and make it easier to reintegrate into society on release. This doesn’t mean that incarceration in either a county jail or a state prison is a pleasant experience and it is definitely worth avoiding if at all possible with the help of your attorney.

Other differences between misdemeanors and felonies

Depending on whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony charge, there will be significant differences between the way your trial is dealt with and your rights if you are incarcerated. For example, misdemeanors are tried in a district court, while felonies are tried ion a circuit court. Misdemeanor trials have smaller juries, typically 6, while felony trials have a full jury of 12. Jail inmates (misdemeanors) are allowed to vote and do not have their right to own a firearm taken away from them (although obviously not while they are in jail!). Prison inmates cannot vote, and their right to own a gun is removed as part of the penalty of a conviction. Convicted prisoners may regain this right after a period of 3 to 5 years after release.

Examples of crime categories in Michigan

These crimes are examples of common misdemeanors in Michigan:

  • embezzlement;
  • theft;
  • DUI;
  • possession of controlled drugs;

These crimes are examples of common felonies in Michigan:

  • Murder (a Class A felony);
  • Armed Robbery (Class A);
  • Child abuse (Class B);
  • Child pornography (Class B);
  • Robbery (Class C);
  • Manslaughter (Class C);
  • Larceny (Class D);
  • Carrying a concealed weapon (Class E);
  • Possession of marijuana less than 5 kg (class F);
  • Resisting and obstruction of a police officer (class G);
  • Obtaining personal information through false representation (class H).

Felony crimes in Michigan are divided, as can be seen above, into the least serious crimes (class H) right up to the most serious of felony crimes (class A). The more serious is the felony, the longer the prison sentence and the higher the fine. There is no capital punishment in Michigan. In fact, Michigan was the first place in the English speaking world to abolish the death penalty, in 1847! The most severe felonies, class A, attract a life prison sentence. Class B crimes attract a maximum of 20 years prison time, while Class G felony convictions have a 2 year prison sentence and class H felonies only a year in a jail or probation.

No conviction, even the least serious misdemeanor, is positive. Just having a criminal conviction can affect you, and your family, for the rest of your life. Contact a criminal defense attorney at the Abood Law Firm in Birmingham at 248.549.0000 or East Lansing at 517.332.5900.