If you are facing a criminal charge, you either have a misdemeanor or felony charge. While both are serious and could result in time behind bars, there are distinct differences between each type of crime. Knowing the difference is important, especially if you wish to try to get a plea bargain and want to try for a lesser charge.

According to the New York State Office of Mental Health, a felony is any crime that carries a sentence over one year in prison. A misdemeanor is a crime that carries a sentence of 15 days or more up to one year. For crimes with a sentence under 15 days, there is another category. These are violations, but violations are not crimes, so they would not apply if you are facing criminal charges.

Both felonies and misdemeanors have various levels or classes. Misdemeanors can be Class A or B or unclassified while felonies have a much larger range of classes from A to E. The class often relates to the severity of the crime and how much jail or prison time you could get with a conviction. In addition, the class will also impact the possible fines, with lower classes being lower fines. The least severe crimes of both types are Class A.

Since misdemeanors are generally less severe crimes carrying less severe penalties, a felony charge has a higher potential for prison time. In addition, only felony charges carry the possibility of life imprisonment. In other states and at the federal level, some felony charges may carry the death penalty.