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Felony vs. Misdemeanor – How Do They Differ?


Are you facing the possibility of legal trouble in the future? If you are (or even if you aren’t), it’s important to have a fundamental understanding of some of the basic terms and definitions that play important roles in the US legal system.

While the world of criminal legal defense can be a complicated one, the stakes for individuals are high, and it pays to be fully informed about the expectations and penalties associated with different kinds of crimes.

Today, we will break down the differences between crime classifications, and explain what divides misdemeanors from felonies.

Categories of Crime

Crimes in the US are divided into three different categories based on the severity of the crime and its associated punishment.


The least serious level of crime, infractions generally have little to no impact on the offender’s personal life as they refer to offenses like minor traffic violations or littering. Depending on the state, infractions don’t generally go on a person’s permanent criminal record and are punishable with a fine instead of jail time. However, consequences can increase if tickets are left unpaid or if someone commits the same infraction multiple times.


Misdemeanors are the next tier of crimes, and in most states (including Georgia), they refer to crimes that are punishable with less than one year of less of jail time and fines under $1,000. Under federal sentencing guidelines, misdemeanors are divided into different classes of severity based on the jail time associated with the specific crime

  • Class A misdemeanors are crimes punishable six months – 1 year of jail time.
  • Class B misdemeanors are crimes punishable by 1 – 6 months of jail time.
  • Class C misdemeanors are crimes punishable by one month or less of jail time.


Felonies are the most serious and severe level of crime. In Georgia, felonies refer to crimes that are punishable with more than one year of jail time. However, unlike most other states, Georgia does not subdivide felonies into different categories, instead simply differentiating between felonies and misdemeanors.

Examples of Crimes by Severity

Now that we’ve laid out some basic definitions let’s look at a few examples of how different crimes might be categorized.


Physical assault can be either a misdemeanor or a felony based on the context of the situation. Generally, assault will only be considered a misdemeanor if violence is threatened but never actually followed through on physically (this will only involve jail sentences of one year or less).

However, assault will be considered a felony in courts if actual violence has been committed or if a weapon is used to threaten or harm a victim. The class of felony and resulting sentence will depend on the exact nature of the violence done and the other circumstances of the crime.


Like assault, drug-related crimes can be classified as either a misdemeanor or felony. Generally, simple possession or personal use on a small scale will be considered a misdemeanor, but charges will increase to a felony-level if the suspect has a large amount of drugs or if they have intent to sell to others.

Different states will have different penalties as well as definitions of what constitutes a large amount. In Georgia, simply possessing certain kinds of drugs is considered a Class E felony with up to five years of jail time, whereas selling or distributing Schedule I or II drugs (those considered most dangerous with no medicinal value) is punishable with up to 30 years in jail.


As with the last two categories, theft can be considered either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the monetary value of the stolen goods. In Georgia, theft is considered a misdemeanor if the stolen assets are worth $1,500 or less and become a felony when the value surpasses that number. Penalties and jail time increase if larger amounts are stolen.

Penalties & Consequences

To cap this article off, let’s look at some of the consequences one can expect to see in Georgia specifically.


Unlike most other states, in Georgia, any misdemeanor can potentially be punished with a full year of jail time. Additionally, the state of Georgia differentiates between standard misdemeanors and “misdemeanors of a high or aggravated nature.” Both kinds come with up to a year in jail, but “high and aggravated” misdemeanors have a higher potential fine – up to $5,000 instead of the normal $1,000.


In Georgia, felony penalties range from one year in jail up to the death penalty. A lower priority drug like marijuana comes with up to a ten-year sentence for possessing more than an ounce for personal use or for possessing 10 pounds or less with the intent to distribute.

Meanwhile, crimes like aggravated assault and battery carry penalties between one and twenty years of jail time, with robbery carrying a minimum five-year penalty if the victim is older than 65 years old. Lastly, the most serious crimes like rape and murder will be punished with at least 25 years in jail and up to life in prison or the death penalty.

Andrew Schwartz Law Fights For Your Rights

Drug laws in Georgia are too complex to risk attempting to fight them without the help of a lawyer. Andrew L. Schwartz understands the complexities of the law and can help you have the best chance of avoiding serious penalties.

Andrew Schwartz Law has been serving Cobb County with experienced, proven legal defense strategies for years. We specialize in DUI cases and drug-related offenses, traffic crimes, and general criminal defense.

We do more than provide you with a knowledgeable Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyer — we hold steadfast in defense of your rights as a citizen. Reach out to us now and get your free consultation.

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