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Differences Between Felonies and Misdemeanors Plus Examples

Summers & Associates Represents Misdemeanor and Felony Defendants

For July, we’re explaining the differences between felonies and misdemeanors plus examples in our monthly blog. Summers & Associates doesn’t just help clients with divorce and child custody issues. Our law office works with West Virginia and Ohio residents accused of committing crimes. In the United States constitution, the sixth amendment guarantees criminal defendants certain rights.

This includes the right to an expedient, public trial, an impartial jury, and knowing the nature of all charges filed. The constitution also guarantees criminal defendants the right to legal counsel.  As criminal defense attorneys, we’re committed to upholding our clients’ constitutional rights to legal counsel. Summers & Associates’ extensive knowledge of criminal law makes it possible for us to explain the following in this blog:

  • The definitions of misdemeanor and felony crimes
  • How the law grades misdemeanors and felonies
  • Examples of crimes designated as misdemeanors and felonies

First, Let’s Explain the Definitions of Both “Misdemeanor” and “Felony”

When law enforcement officers arrest people for allegedly committing crimes, the court usually opens criminal case files for them. Criminal case files start with the arrest reports. Sometimes cases move on to preliminary hearings, where judges decide whether there’s enough evidence to proceed to trial. In between the arrest and hearing, prosecutors decide what charges to file. Charges include felonies and misdemeanors:


The word “felony” derives from an Old French word “felonie,” which means “wickedness, evil, treachery.” Felonies are classified as the most serious crimes one can commit. Those convicted of felonies often receive sentences including extended incarcerations at hefty fines. At a minimum, a felony conviction permanently impacts a person’s public record. Many times, those convicted of felonies have trouble finding employment and securing housing.


The origin of the word “misdemeanor” comes from “ill-behavior,” “evil conduct,” and “fault.” Misdemeanor crimes are less serious than those classified as felonies. Those convicted of misdemeanors sometimes receive shorter jail times, usually pay smaller fines, and often suffer punishments like probation.

Every State Classifies Felony and Misdemeanor Crimes Differently

Felonies and misdemeanors break down into grades, according to the law. These grades are also known as degrees or classes. Every state has its own crime degree and classification system. In West Virginia, felonies have six classes and misdemeanors have four. In Ohio, misdemeanors and felonies fall under a maximum of five degrees. Here’s a classification of the two:

West Virginia Crime Classes

A felony class one is the most serious offense. Class one felonies are punishable by life imprisonment or even the death penalty. Felony classes two and three are usually punishable by up to 25 years’ incarceration. That said, class three felony sentences can go as low as five years. Class four felonies can be punishable by two to 10 years’ incarceration.

Felonies classified as five or six carry lower incarceration terms and usually include $2500 fines. Class one misdemeanors carry a maximum county incarceration sentence of 12 months and a $2,500 fine. A class two misdemeanor also includes county incarceration, but for six months, plus a $1,000 fine. Classes three and our carry no jail time but often include fines ranging between $250 and $500.

Ohio Crime Degrees

First-degree felonies in Ohio carry incarceration sentences of three to 11 years and $20,000 maximum in fines. Those convicted of a second-degree felony face imprisonment of two to eight years and $15,000 maximum in fines. Certain third-degree felonies include one to five years’ incarceration, but mostly include nine to 36 months. A third-degree felony conviction also includes $10,000 maximum in fines. Fourth- and fifth-degree felony convictions generally include minimum incarceration sentences of six months.

Fourth-degree felonies max out at 18 months incarceration and $5,000 in fines. Fifth-degree felonies max out at $2,500 in fines and 12 months incarceration. The circumstances surrounding specific unclassified felonies usually determine the imposed sentence. Sentence guidelines for misdemeanors in Ohio include:

        • 1st degree misdemeanor convictions: 180 days county incarceration; $1,000 maximum fines
        • 2nd degree misdemeanor convictions: 90 days county incarceration; $750 maximum in fines
        • 3rd degree misdemeanor convictions: 60 days county incarceration; $500 maximum in fines
        • 4th degree misdemeanor convictions: 30 days county incarceration; $250 maximum in fines
        • Minor misdemeanor convictions: No county incarceration and $150 maximum in fines.

Misdemeanor and Felony Examples Include Assault, Theft, and More

Some infractions, like murder, obviously fall under the felony category, but many criminal acts can be either, depending on severity. For example, simple assault is a misdemeanor. Aggravated assault is a felony. Generally, theft of anything valued under $1,000 is a misdemeanor. Those accused of theft involving items valued over $1,000 face felony theft—or larceny—charges.

If you’re charged with Driving Under the Influence once or twice in your life, those are usually misdemeanors. Felony charges of Driving While Intoxicated occur if doing so with children in the vehicle. If you have a third DUI or DWI charge in 10 years or less, it’ll be classified as a felony. Other felony and misdemeanor infractions include:


  • Burglary
  • Robbery
  • Rape
  • Aggravated assault
  • Grand theft auto
  • Receiving stolen property


  • Simple assault
  • Terroristic threats
  • Stalking
  • Harassment
  • Trespassing
  • Vandalism

For more information on legal services, give Summers & Associates a call at (304) 420-0975. Follow us on FACEBOOK for updates. We are happy to discuss more about the differences between felonies and misdemeanors plus examples.