Dealing with the criminal system in the US can be overwhelming, but the first step is understanding legal terminology. Most people have heard about misdemeanors and felonies, but it is important to understand how these are different and what impact they may have on your criminal record.

If somebody is accusing you of a violent crime, the courts may charge you with either a misdemeanor or a felony. According to FindLaw, one of the major differences between the two charges is that if the courts convict you of a misdemeanor, you will spend no more than one year in jail.

What is the criminal process like with a misdemeanor charge?

Usually, criminal procedure is less strict when dealing with a misdemeanor charge. Prosecutors may be more willing to plea bargain with misdemeanor charges, as the courts see misdemeanors as less heinous than felonies. It is also reasonably common for persons accused of lower-level felonies to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges in order to avoid a felony charge.

Either way, if the courts convict you of a misdemeanor, you will spend no more than one year in jail. You will likely serve this time in a county jail rather than a high-security prison. It is also possible that, even if the court finds you guilty of a misdemeanor charge, you may not actually serve time in jail.

What is the criminal process like with a felony charge?

The penalties are much higher for felonious charges. They may include life in prison or the death sentence. Because of this, prosecutors adhere much more strictly to criminal procedure to protect the rights of the defendant. Common felonious charges include murder, rape, kidnapping, and arson.