What is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

Posted by April Picozzi | Feb 05, 2018 | 0 Comments

The U.S. legal system can be full of mystery, even if you find yourself on the wrong side of the law. One of the most common of these mysteries is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. Understanding the differences between these charges can help you anticipate what potential penalties you may be facing. Below are some things that divide the two types of charges.


The legal system actually has three classifications for a crime.

  • An infraction is a minor crime, such as a traffic ticket.
  • misdemeanor is a more serious crime, which could result in up to one year in jail or prison.
  • felony is a serious crime, which could result in more than one year in jail or prison.

Misdemeanors fall somewhere between infractions and felonies. They are more serious than a simple citation and require more serious penalties than fines, community services, or mandated education. Frequently, those accused of a misdemeanor stand to face up to 1 year in county jail or state prison. Depending on the severity of the crime, the circumstances of the crime, the judge, and the defense, it is possible the defendant may not actually go to jail. These crimes also may result in flexible sentences, plea bargains, and other lighter penalties. Your criminal defense attorney will strive to minimize the consequences of your sentence.

Felonies, on the other hand, are generally considered quite severe. A felony is defined as a crime that requires more than 1 year of imprisonment. Because of the serious nature of these crimes, the courtroom procedures for them are quite strict. The consequences much match the severity of the crime, and there is far less flexibility for alternative sentencing.


If you have been charged with a misdemeanor, you'll find that there are still many opportunities available to you in the future. If you were under the age of 18 when you committed a misdemeanor, it may be possible to have your record expunged or sealed after you turn 18, limiting prospective employers, landlords, and others from seeing your conviction on your background check. Generally, you are still able to work in law enforcement or for the military with a misdemeanor.

If you have been charged with a felony, you may struggle to get out from the shadow of your conviction. A felony will show up in background checks. It prevents you from joining law enforcement or the military. If your job requires a security clearance, it can be difficult to receive that, which can jeopardize your career. A felony conviction can haunt you for a lifetime.


In Rhode Island, there are two classes of misdemeanors: misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are more serious than petty misdemeanors, but neither are as serious as felony charges or as trivial as infractions. Misdemeanors can include impersonating a law enforcement officer, public indecency, or vandalism. Petty misdemeanors may be disorderly conduct, unauthorized presence on transportation, or other minor crimes.

Felonies only have one classification in Rhode Island, which means that every felony crime is treated equally seriously. A felony can have serious repercussions, including heavy fines, years of time in prison, and significant consequences for your life outside of prison. Rhode Island law considered a felony to be any crime punishable by more than one year in prison or a fine of more than $1,000.

Examples of felonies include:

  • Rape
  • Murder
  • Arson
  • Kidnapping
  • Burglary
  • Breaking and entering
  • Forgery
  • Theft of property worth more than $500


In any criminal case, the judge will carefully consider the specifics of a situation before you are sentenced. There are many, many factors that will need to be considered since there is no one-size-fits-all penalty for convictions. While every sentence is handled on a case-by-case basis, there are limits to the jail time or fines that can be set for a misdemeanor.

In Rhode Island, the maximum penalty that can be set for a misdemeanor is up to $1,000 and up to 1 year of incarceration. A petty misdemeanor may only be penalized with up to $500 or up to 6 months of incarceration. The consequences may be far less than the maximum, but that will depend on the judge and your unique situation.

A felony has a minimum penalty, rather than a maximum. Felony convictions merit at least one year in jail or in prison, depending on the severity of the crime and the perceived threat posed by the convicted. The minimum fine must be more than $1,000. In addition to fines and prison time, a convicted person may also serve probation, be registered as a sex offender, lose their driver's license, pay restitution to victims, serve community service, and other punishments.

If you are facing criminal charges, time is not on your side. The line between felonies and misdemeanors is easily blurred, so you need aggressive, results-driven legal defense on your side. At Inman & Tourgee, we are backed by more than 125 years of legal experience. Let our Rhode Island criminal defense attorneys protect your rights and future.

Schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with our team. Contact our offices by calling (401) 823-9200.

About the Author

April Picozzi

PUBLIC ADJUSTER / OPERATIONS & FINANCE MANAGER April M. Picozzi joined the firm in 2013 as a licensed Independent Adjuster and legal assistant to Mark D. Tourgee, Esq. She handles all aspects of personal injury claims including client intake, maintaining client files, negotiating settlements and assi...


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