What is the Difference Between a Felony and Misdemeanor Charge?

Peter Odom: Felonies are more serious crimes than misdemeanors,  both in the actions that result in the charge and the associated penalties upon being convicted of the crime.

A felony is any charge that carries a maximum penalty of more than 1 year of incarceration.  Any charge that carries a maximum penalty of 1 year or less is a misdemeanor.  In felony cases, judges have sentencing guidelines that they tend to follow, although they are not required to do so.  These sentencing guidelines establish ranges of possible sentences based on the charge and the defendant’s criminal history, as well as any mitigating or aggravating factors.  In misdemeanor cases, judges are simply bound by minimum and maximum possible sentences, rather than voluntary sentencing guidelines.

Procedures are also different in felony cases.  If the government wants to charge someone with a misdemeanor, they simply need to file a charging document with the court called an “information.”  In order to charge someone with a felony, the government must first present witnesses and evidence to a grand jury, which would determine whether there is probable cause to move forward on the charge.  Probable cause is a very low standard; the grand jury would simply need to find that there is enough evidence for the prosecutor to be able to take the case to a trial.

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