What is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

Difference between felony and misdemeanor
What is the Difference Between a Felony & Misdemeanor?

In North Carolina, there is a major difference between a misdemeanor and a felony, the latter of which is the more severe charge.

Difference between felony and misdemeanor

In North Carolina, there are two categories of crimes–felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies are more serious and, when convicted, you can be sentenced to a lengthy term in prison with fines. Generally, nonviolent crimes such as shoplifting, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and driving under the influence are misdemeanors while crimes such as armed robbery or murder are felonies. Some crimes can be prosecuted as either misdemeanors or felonies and are usually determined by the prosecutor. These decisions are based on discretion and aggravating factors like whether or not a weapon was used during the crime.

At Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh Attorneys at Law, our Raleigh criminal lawyer and expert legal team are experienced in defending clients who are charged with both misdemeanors and felonies. Our article “Different Types of Criminal Offenses” describes many different kinds of criminal offenses. As part of the education we provide, in this article, we explain the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor.

Felonies and Misdemeanors

In simple terms, the most basic distinction between the two types of offenses is in how they are punished. If convicted of a misdemeanor, one can face up to 150 days in jail. However, if convicted of a felony, the minimum punishment is twelve months in prison. No maximums are explicitly defined by state law and all crimes that are punishable by death in North Carolina are felonies.


Misdemeanors are not nearly as serious as felonies in North Carolina, however, that does not mean they are insignificant criminal offenses. In many cases, misdemeanors do not carry large amounts of jail time.

The state ranks misdemeanors into four different classes:

  • Class 3: This is the least serious type of misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of 20 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Examples of Class 3 misdemeanor offenses include disorderly conduct and possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana.
  • Class 2: The maximum penalty is 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Examples of Class 2 misdemeanor offenses include simple assault and issuing a worthless check valued at $2,000 or less.
  • Class 1: This type of misdemeanor is punishable by up to 120 days in jail and a fine set by the judge’s direction. Examples of Class 1 misdemeanor offenses include larceny under $1,000 and driving with a revoked license. If a Class 2 or a Class 3 misdemeanor was committed because of the victim’s race, color, nationality, religion, or country of origin, it would be charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
  • Class A1: This is the most serious type of misdemeanor, for which the penalty is up to 150 days in jail and a discretionary fine. Class A1 misdemeanors include sexual battery and assault with a deadly weapon.


Felonies are crimes that tend to involve physical violence or actions that can cause extreme harm psychologically such as manslaughter, murder, aggravated assault, and kidnapping. Other felonies include grand theft, tax evasion, perjury, copyright infringement, and parole or probation violations. Felony drug charges in North Carolina carry stiff punishment, with fentanyl possession being a felony crime that is growing rapidly. Other felonies include domestic violence, gun charges, and federal felons who are in possession of a firearm. 

When convicted of any felony in North Carolina, you more than likely face sentencing that includes time in prison. A seasoned criminal attorney such as Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh Attorneys at Law will know North Carolina law and possible areas that may allow a reduction of the sentence.

Types of Felonies

In North Carolina, felonies are divided into 10 different classifications: A, B1, B2, C, D, E, F, G, H, and I. Unlike misdemeanors, felonies generally do not have hard rules set for punishments. However, all Class A felonies are punishable by death or life imprisonment. Sentences for lesser felonies can include a combination of fines, probation, and prison terms of any length. A judge on your case would take the seriousness of the offense into account as well as your previous criminal record. Additionally, the judge can also choose to suspend the sentence and impose probation or community punishment.

Here are some of the types of felonies:

Raleigh Criminal Defense Lawyers

If you are facing criminal charges, whether it is a misdemeanor or felony, it’s imperative that you discuss your case with a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Because of the serious nature of both crimes and the effect they can have on your life, you need to obtain expert representation quickly. At Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh, our top priority is advocating for your rights. We will do everything we can to reach your specific goals and ensure you receive the best possible defense. Call our firm right away at (919) 845-6688 to schedule a free initial consultation with a knowledgeable member of our team.