Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony in San Diego

If you’re arrested for a crime, it will be classified as either a felony, misdemeanor or infraction. Generally speaking, the difference in the classifications is the penalty: misdemeanors carry jail time of less than one year while felonies can land you in prison for a year or more. Infractions are crimes that are punished by the payment of a fine or some other punishment and there is no custody associated with it.


Misdemeanors are not considered as being as serious a crime as felonies, which should be obvious from the lesser amount of time served as punishment for being convicted. However, being convicted of a crime and serving any time in jail is a serious situation to be in; one that can cause havoc in many areas of your life. Examples of misdemeanors include some types of assault, first time DUI’s with no injuries, disorderly conduct, petty theft and trespassing.


As you can tell by the amount of time doled out in punishment for a felony conviction, a felony is a much more serious crime. Instead of serving time in jail, you could end up with time in prison. As bad as it can be to have a misdemeanor on your record, a felony makes life after serving your time even more difficult. Examples of felonies include kidnapping, murder and rape.

Other Classifications of Crime

Although people tend to talk more about felonies and misdemeanors, there are also infractions. Infractions, too, are classified by the punishment received and are punished by fines. While a fine can hurt you financially, it will not be as serious as a felony or misdemeanor. Examples of infractions include traffic tickets, fishing without a license and violating any city ordinances.

Some crimes, however, can be felonies or misdemeanors depending on numerous circumstances and factors relating to the judge, district attorney, public policy and your defense attorney. These types of cases are known in California as “wobblers” and can end up as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on factors such as the circumstances of the case, how the district attorney files the case, and the judge’s mood. For example, you could be charged with assault. If you took a swing at somebody while you were drunk, assuming you have no prior history of violence, you might end up with a misdemeanor. If, however, you were armed with a knife at the time, you likely will be be facing a felony.

Depending on the criminal conviction and the crimes charged, it is also possible in many cases to have a felony reduced to an infraction after your probation has been completed… but that is a conversation for another blog coming soon!

This blog is meant to be used as a rule of thumb to help you better understand the legal system. The intricacies of criminal case classifications is a very complex one and the general rules listed here may not apply to all cases. If you’ve been charged with any kind of crime, or have questions about your criminal record, it’s best to have a knowledgeable and experienced attorney on your side. Call the Seneca Law Group at (619) 630-8LAW. We will make sure you are aware of your rights and lay out all your options to ensure the most just outcome of any situation you find yourself in.

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