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What is the difference between a felony and misdemeanor?

On Behalf of | May 1, 2020 | Criminal Law |

In the criminal justice system, the law distinguishes between different categories of crimes. The two you will hear the most about are felonies and misdemeanors. You may wonder what the difference is between the two. It is not always clear because crimes can often fall into both categories.

According to the West Virginia Legislature, the classification of a crime as a felony or misdemeanor depends on the potential punishment. It is important to understand that this means the punishment you could receive not necessarily what you do receive.


Felony offenses are often harsher with stricter punishments. Any crime for which you could serve time in prison is a felony.


Misdemeanors may still be serious crimes, but they do not come with punishments that include prison time. However, you may still have to spend time in jail.

Prison vs. jail

Some people confuse the terms prison and jail, thinking they are the same thing. The distinction is in who runs the facility. All prisons are state ran. Local governments run jails.

Degrees and crimes that fall in both categories

Both felonies and misdemeanors may have degrees. For example, first-degree murder and second-degree murder are similar crimes but are not the same. Degrees of a crime help to distinguish the characteristics and circumstances of the crime. They also affect the penalty.

It is possible for a crime to be both a felony and a misdemeanor, depending on the details of the situation. The prosecutor will typically consider the evidence when deciding about applying the law and making charges. For example, a DUI could fall into both categories.