Criminal Law
Differences Between a Felony and Misdemeanor in New York

Differences Between a Felony and Misdemeanor in New York

On Behalf of vitalianolaw | Sep 09, 2023 |

For the most part, crimes are separated into two categories: felonies and misdemeanors. Of the two, felonies are the more serious crimes. They often do the most harm or have the potential to do the most harm if executed successfully. Misdemeanors, however, tend to be less serious, and the penalties are less severe as a result. In either case, though, a conviction means a criminal record. In addition to the legal penalties, a criminal record can have a disruptive effect on your life. It’s important to take any criminal charges seriously, whether they are the harshest of felonies or the lightest of misdemeanors, and to work with a skilled, experienced criminal defense lawyer.


Misdemeanor charges tend to carry the lightest penalties. Particularly for first offenders, it is possible that the judge will only penalize probation rather than prison time. Misdemeanors are generally broken down into three categories. Each category has rough penalty guidelines, although they may vary a little from misdemeanor to misdemeanor. Also, the guidelines establish a range of penalties, but the judge will consider a variety of factors and then decide how to penalize each case uniquely. The three categories and their penalty guidelines are:

  • Class A – The sentence will be no more than 364 days in jail, a fine of no more than $1000 or twice what the defendant gained as a result of their crime, or both jail time and a fine.
  • Class B – An offender will spend no more than three months in jail, pay a fine of no more than $500 or twice what the defendant gained as a result of their crime, or receive both jail time and a fine.
  • Unclassified Misdemeanors – These will have differing guidelines for each misdemeanor but, generally, the maximum jail time is 364 days, with the maximum fine being $1000 fine or twice what the defendant gained as a result of their crime.


Felonies are more serious crimes and, as a result, carry the most severe penalties. There are six different classes of felonies, each with its own general sentencing guidelines, although there could be some variance from felony to felony. The six classes and their penalty guidelines are:

  • Class A-I – No fewer than fifteen years and, at most, life in prison, potentially without parole
  • Class A-II – No fewer than three years and, at most, life in prison, potentially without parole
  • Class B – No fewer than one year and, at most, 25 years
  • Class C – No fewer than one year and, at most, 15 years
  • Class D – No fewer than one year and, at most, seven years
  • Class E – No fewer than one year and, at most, four years


Q: Do Both Felonies and Misdemeanors Create a Criminal Record?

A: If you are convicted of either a felony or a misdemeanor, then you will have a criminal record. That record will appear on background checks and can negatively impact your career, education, finances, and social life. In some cases, the consequences of living with a criminal record may even be worse than the legal penalties that you receive. A criminal record alone is enough reason to seek the strongest defense you can by working with a criminal defense attorney.

Q: Will a Defense Lawyer Do Anything Different for a Felony or Misdemeanor?

A: A criminal defense lawyer has a number of different responsibilities for their clients. Generally, though, these won’t change all that much if the client is charged with a felony or misdemeanor. There is still a duty for their lawyer to:

  • Protect their clients’ rights.
  • Investigate their case.
  • Plan a defense.
  • Represent them in court.
  • Execute a defensive strategy.

Q: Can Misdemeanors Become Felonies?

A: There are some circumstances when something that might normally be a misdemeanor is upgraded to a felony charge. Most often, this is due to a repeated offense or if there is something protected about the victim in a case. Some examples of ways that crimes may be upgraded to felonies in a given situation include:

  • DWIs become felonies for any offense after the first one.
  • For more than 50 different misdemeanors, a second offense committed against a family member or someone in the household will be upgraded to felony charges if it occurs within five years of the prior offense.
  • Class A misdemeanors may be charged as Class E felonies if they are deemed to be a hate crime.
  • If the victim of an assault is a health care worker, emergency worker, animal control officer, or other protected employee, and the assault is an attempt to keep them from performing the duties of their job, the Class A misdemeanor will be bumped up to a Class D felony.

Q: Should I Do Anything Different for a Misdemeanor Arrest Compared With a Felony Arrest?

A: Generally, the arrest process will be the same for felonies and misdemeanors. Although, with a misdemeanor, you are much more likely to be given bail or even released on your own merit. In either situation, though, it’s critical that you don’t do or say anything that could make your case worse. It’s important to try to remain calm through the process, say as little as possible to avoid incriminating yourself, and call your lawyer as soon as possible.

No Matter the Criminal Charge, We Can Help Defend You

Whether it is the most serious of felonies or a more minor misdemeanor, the penalties of a conviction can have a significant impact on a person’s life. That’s why it’s critical that you take every opportunity available to you to defend yourself. Nothing can give you a better chance at winning your case than working with a skilled, experienced criminal defense lawyer. We can see that your rights through the legal process are honored.

At The Vitaliano Law Firm, we can ensure that you are given the fair opportunity at a defense that you deserve. Most of all, we can build a defensive strategy on your behalf and argue it in court, aggressively seeking to give the court reasonable doubt regarding your guilt. If you have criminal charges against you, or even if you are just being investigated, then contact us to discuss your case as soon as possible.