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What's the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?

Every state in the country has a classification system set in state law for the range of criminal offenses. Criminal offenses are categorized from the least serious, such as infractions or traffic offenses, up to misdemeanors - something like a drunk driving charge - all the way up to felony level offenses, like burglary or armed robbery. But, not everyone who is arrested for a criminal offense in New Jersey knows the difference between misdemeanors and felony level offenses.

Misdemeanor offenses can land a person in jail for the night, but beyond that a conviction for a misdemeanor offense generally does not warrant an extended amount of jail time, especially for first-time arrestees. However, the highest level misdemeanors could lead to a jail sentence of up to a year in certain circumstances. And no one would dispute that an arrest for a misdemeanor could lead to the arrestee losing their job or otherwise suffering damage to their reputation. But, in the grand scheme of the criminal justice system, misdemeanor offenses are lower level offenses that usually lead to a term of probation supervision upon conviction.

Felony offenses, on the other hand, are quite serious. While in some states a conviction on a low level felony charge could later be converted down to a misdemeanor conviction, the higher level felonies could result in incarceration, even for first-time offenses. And, if the felony charges are for violent crimes or gun crimes, anyone who is convicted will almost always receive more than a "slap on the wrist."

Misdemeanors and felonies carry different levels of punishment, but both types of charges can be very serious for a New Jersey resident. The difference between the two levels of charges can be a big factor in an arrestee's decision on how to approach their criminal defense strategy.

Source: FindLaw, "What Distinguishes a Misdemeanor From a Felony?," accessed on Aug. 11, 2014

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