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  • Writer's pictureJay Ingrum

Understanding the Legal Landscape: Misdemeanors vs. Felonies in the U.S.

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Misdemeanor vs. felony crime - Ingrum Lawyers

In the criminal realm, defendants can be charged with a misdemeanor crime or a felony crime. What is the difference? According to the Black's Law Dictionary, a misdemeanor is an offense lower than a felony and generally those offenses punishable by a fine, penalty, forfeiture or imprisonment otherwise than in the penitentiary for less than one year. Under federal law, and most state laws, including those in Tennessee, any offense other than a felony is classified as a misdemeanor. Certain states, including Tennessee, also have various classes of misdemeanors. In Tennessee, a Class A misdemeanor carries up to eleven (11) months and twenty-nine (29) days in the county jail. A B misdemeanor carries up to six (6) months in the county jail. A C misdemeanor carries up to thirty (30) days in the county jail.

According to the Black's Law Dictionary, a felony is a crime of a graver or more serious nature than those designated as misdemeanors; e.g. aggravated assault (felony) as contrasted with simple assault (misdemeanor). Under many state statutes, including Tennessee's state statutes, a felony is any offense punishable by death or imprisonment for a term exceeding one year. The federal code and many state criminal codes define felony status crimes, and also in turn have various classes of felonies with varying sentences for each class. The most serious level of felony in Tennessee is an A felony such as First Degree Murder. The lowest level of felony in Tennessee is an E felony such as possession of marijuana for resale over a half ounce. Misdemeanor charges are usually settled in General Sessions Court. Felony charges may be reduced to misdemeanors and settled in General Sessions, but more often than not are bound over to the Grand Jury and then after arraignment are set for settlement in Criminal Circuit Court. Whether you are in General Sessions or Criminal Court, you should strongly consider hiring an experienced trial lawyer.

You don't want or need to go it alone in any court where your freedom and driving privileges or license are at stake. Make the investment to protect your rights. America has the best justice system in the world, but it isn't perfect. You need guidance in navigating the system in order to obtain the best outcome for you and your case. Please check out our website at and then give us a call to set up your free initial consultation for your criminal case!

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