What’s the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?
The primary difference between a felony and a misdemeanor in Georgia is the severity of the crime. Misdemeanor offenses typically involve acts that result in minor losses and damage to property or victims. Felony crimes, however, tend to be much more serious in nature.
The following is an overview of the three main categories of Georgia criminal offenses and how they relate to one another:
Infractions are the least serious type of crime, comprising mostly tickets and fines. In these cases, law enforcement officers may notice a person doing something wrong and write a ticket, but not take that person into custody. The person who received the ticket is responsible for paying the fine or adhering to the warning on the citation.
Infractions often involve little to no time in court, and no jail time. The most common examples include traffic tickets (such as speeding or expired license plates), jaywalking, minor drug possession, and disorderly conduct. However, if tickets go unpaid, you may face greater fines and penalties. In fact, failing to meet the requirements of a citation could turn an infraction into a misdemeanor.
Misdemeanors are a step up in severity from infractions. They include various crimes punishable by up to a year in jail. Offenders could serve that time in a local county jail instead of a maximum-security prison.
Another common definition of a misdemeanor is simply any crime that does not qualify as a felony or an infraction. With this vague definition, prosecutors have considerable leeway when it comes to determining what crimes they will charge, how the crimes will be prosecuted, the types of punishments offenders face, and the limits on the plea bargains they will offer.
In Georgia, standard misdemeanors, such as simple battery, are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to 12 months in county jail. Misdemeanors of a high or aggravated nature, which often involve repeat offenders, can trigger a fine of up to $5,000 in addition to the potential 12-month jail sentence.
Felonies are the most serious type of crime in Georgia. They are usually punishable by prison sentences of one year or more. Because the punishments are so severe, there must be strict courtroom procedures to ensure the protection of defendants’ rights.
Judges have wide latitude when it comes to imposing felony sentences in Georgia. Rather than using a class system like many other states, Georgia assigns crimes in ranges, and the judge can deliver a punishment within that range. For example, someone convicted of armed robbery must be incarcerated for at least 10 but not more than 20 years. Certain murders are punishable by the death penalty.