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What’s the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

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By Colin Maher

Misdemeanors differ from felonies in several ways. Each specific difference, however, boils down to making an alleged felony offense much more serious than an alleged misdemeanor.

Getting charged with a felony indicates that police and prosecutors believe the suspect committed a major crime and inflicted significant harm. A felony conviction subjects a person to  lengthy imprisonment and high fines. Conversely, a misdemeanor charge and conviction brings a relatively more moderate sentence.

Which is not to say a misdemeanor is better than a felony. No criminal arrest, investigation, trial, and/or penalty is ever welcome. But an experienced and dedicated Columbus criminal defense attorney can often help his client change a felony case to a misdemeanor one, thereby sparing his client the worst consequences the law can impose.

Possible Penalties for Felonies and Misdemeanors

In Ohio, where I practice as a criminal defense attorney in and around Columbus, the penalty chart for misdemeanors and felonies looked like this in 2018:


Maximum Penalty

Minor misdemeanor -Fines up to $150

Fourth-degree misdemeanor – 30 days in jail and fines up to $250

Third-degree misdemeanor – 60 days in jail and fines up to $500

Second-degree misdemeanor – 90 days in jail and fines up to $750

First-degree misdemeanor – 180 days in jail and fines up to $1,000

Fourth-degree felony – 18 months in jail and fines up to $5,000

Third-degree felony – 12-36 months in jail and fines up to $10,000

Second-degree felony – 8 years in jail and fines up to $15,000

First-degree felony – 11 years in jail and fines up to $20,000

Under federal law and across many other states, the basic definition of a felony is a criminal offense that can be punished by at least one year in jail and a fine of at least $1,000.

Examples of Misdemeanor Offenses

Most traffic violations, including driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are treated as misdemeanors. Assaults that do not involve the use of weapons and thefts of money or property valued at less than $1,000 are also nearly always prosecuted as misdemeanors.

Be aware, though, that many alleged criminal offenses defined in law as misdemeanors become felonies when a second or third offense occurs. For instance, as a Columbus criminal defense attorney, I will be taking on a felony case if I agree to represent a driver who has three previous DUI convictions within a certain period of time.

Examples of Felony Offenses

Some alleged crimes are categorized as felonies. A partial list of these includes

Using a gun while committing a robbery

Carrying a loaded firearm while on parole as a convicted felon



Intentionally killing someone

Selling, manufacturing, or possessing a substantial amount of illegal drugs

Note that a single criminal case can involve a mix of misdemeanor and felony charges. For instance, being caught carrying a gun while trespassing and allegedly stealing items from a store could subject a person to multiple charges. In such an instance, a criminal defense attorney may try to negotiate a plea deal in which the threat of any felony penalties is removed in return for accepting misdemeanor penalties. This may not be the absolute best outcome, but given the risk of a felony conviction at trial, it may be a preferable one.

If you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony, speak to a Columbus Traffic Lawyer now by calling The Maher Law Firm at (614) 205-2208 or by contacting us online.

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