What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?

The West Virginia government punishes people for a wide variety of crimes. Of course, some types of criminal activity are more serious than others. We do not expect someone convicted of stealing candy to receive the same level of punishment as someone found guilty of sexual assault or manslaughter.

That is why states like West Virginia categorize the infractions in their criminal codes into felonies and misdemeanors. Most of our readers probably already know that felonies carry more serious potential penalties than misdemeanors, but may not know how lawmakers distinguish between the two.

Often, aggravating factors make the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony. Things such as the value or quantity of the items involved can vault a misdemeanor up to a felony. So can the use of a dangerous weapon, personal injury to another person. In many cases, a person’s prior criminal record can lead prosecutors to charge him or her with a felony, when a person without a previous record would be charged with a misdemeanor for the same alleged conduct.

However, not every aggravating factor automatically turns a misdemeanor into a felony. Other times, the law explicitly defines a crime as a felony.

In general, the penalties for a felony are significantly more serious than for misdemeanors. A prison sentence and heavy fines are possible. In some cases, the penalties continue after incarceration, such as having to register as a sex offender.

Nevertheless, any criminal charges can lead to serious consequences, so anyone arrested or charged with a crime should speak to an attorney as soon as possible.

Source: 22 C.J.S. Criminal Law § 16

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