What is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor? 

In Indiana, as in most states, criminal offenses are categorized into two main groups: Felonies and misdemeanors. While both are crimes and carry penalties if convicted, they do result in different penalties. Knowing the difference could protect you from a severe criminal conviction.

Understanding the difference between the two is important for anyone facing a criminal accusation, as depending on which you are dealing with, you will be in very different situations. These differences can impact how you handle your criminal defense case and the potential results. Fortunately, you have grounds to take action and defend your future.

Misdemeanor Penalties May Be Less Severe

While you do not want to be charged with a crime under any circumstances, a misdemeanor is the preferable of the two. It carries less severe penalties, with far less impact on your life. A few common misdemeanors include:

Misdemeanors are usually minor crimes without as much cost or violence. These can sometimes be mitigated through certain deals, such as agreeing to traffic school in the case of a DUI. A judge is much more likely to be lenient with you in the case of a misdemeanor.

Felonies Can Have Life-Changing Consequences

When you imagine a serious crime, you are probably thinking of a felony. Felonies are violent, costly crimes that carry heavy penalties if convicted. Felonies include:

A felony will usually come with both heavy fines and a potentially lengthy prison sentence. Felonies are sorted into classes based on the severity of the crime in question. While minor felonies can sometimes be negotiated down to a misdemeanor, this can be difficult to accomplish with an overworked public defender handling your case.

Both Types of Offenses Come with Harsh Penalties

You can expect legal penalties no matter what you are being charged with, even if there are levels to them. You could be paying off a fine or sitting in a prison cell for the rest of your life, or you could simply take a few classes and be done with it. It can be difficult to identify the penalties you may face until you seek help with your defense.

Financial Costs

A fine is one of the most common penalties you will face after conviction. These can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand and are often imposed even if you also receive another penalty as well. If you are unable to pay your fines completely as ordered, you may have your wages garnished until the full amount is paid off.

Fines are not the only financial cost of a criminal trial. There will be legal fees you have to cover, as well as wages you may be unable to earn while in court. In some cases, you may lose your job entirely with increased difficulty finding another.

Jail or Prison Time

One of the most alarming penalties for a criminal conviction is the potential of a prison sentence. While there is a difference between jail and prison, both represent a total loss of freedom for a set amount of time. While you may think this is only possible for severe crimes, even a misdemeanor can put you in jail for as much as a year.


Probation is an opportunity to serve your sentence outside of prison, with some restrictions. While preferable to prison or jail, probation still significantly restricts your freedom. You will have to follow certain rules, submit to drug and alcohol testing, and check in regularly with your probation officer or risk additional penalties, including imprisonment.

Building a Defense for Your Charges

The best way to avoid these penalties is to build a strong defense against your accusations. Stay knowledgeable about Indiana law and your rights. A mistake can be costly. Fortunately, you do have the right to defend your future.