There are four basic levels of offenses: petty misdemeanor, misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, and felony. This article will focus on the differences between misdemeanors vs felonies.
A misdemeanor is the lowest crime you can be charged with in Minnesota. A felony is the highest crime you can be charged with. Unlike other States, we do not have different levels of misdemeanors and felonies. What this means is that the terms “felony” and “misdemeanor” encompass huge arrays of offenses.
A “misdemeanor” refers to any crime that can be punished by up to 90 days in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine. That’s it. That’s all it means. If you say that you have been convicted of a misdemeanor, it doesn’t tell me anything, except that you’ve been convicted of a low-level crime.
A “felony” refers to any crime that can be punished by more than a year in prison. Like saying you’ve been convicted of a “misdemeanor,” telling me you’ve been convicted of a “felony” doesn’t tell me much.
Unfortunately, if you tell most non-lawyers that you’ve been convicted of a felony, they assume the worst. One of the most unfortunate sets of crimes is the drug offense hierarchy. The lowest level is a petty misdemeanor; possessing 46.5 grams or less of marijuana is a petty misdemeanor (not even a crime because you can’t serve jail time for it). Possessing 46.6 grams of marijuana is a felony. There’s no in-between. There’s no such thing as a misdemeanor drug offense. But you may never serve a day of jail time for either offense, and the fine may be the same $300 for each offense. This is why telling me you’ve been convicted of a felony doesn’t tell me much. But I’m a lawyer. There is a huge stigma in the community about felonies. This is largely based on not knowing things like this.
Similarly, a misdemeanor can be anything from a first-time DWI to theft to assault to certain prostitution offenses. If you tell me you’ve been convicted of a misdemeanor, I need more information.
Misdemeanors, like felonies, are not all the same. Some misdemeanors may have a higher probability of carrying jail time that you may have to serve. Same with felonies. You may serve no jail time for 46.6 grams of marijuana (a felony). You may serve no jail time for a first-time DWI (a misdemeanor). But you may very well serve time for the rape of a child (a felony) or a fifth-time minor theft (a misdemeanor).
As I mentioned above, the terms “felony” and “misdemeanor” encompass so many offenses. But the main difference is the potential time served (though you may not serve this time). In any case, it is important to call a great criminal defense attorney to discuss what the felony or misdemeanor means in your case, what the realistic penalties may be, and how to best attack the charges.