What is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

difference between a felony and misdemeanor

What’s the big difference between a misdemeanor and a felony? Well, one can land you in prison and revoke basic rights, while the other may just mean probation or fines. But the legal lines separating smaller infractions from major criminal offenses can get fuzzy.

Most of us probably know a few examples of big-time felonies like murder or robbery that can upend lives. But in reality, a large majority of arrests involve lesser misdemeanor crimes. Understanding how the law distinguishes these two classifications provides citizens with important context regarding sentences, fines, and post-conviction rights.

To break these terms down for you, we will explore the differences in potential jail time, court fines and fees, probation requirements, and loss of applicable rights after a conviction is entered. 

Felonies in Tennessee

Felonies are the worst of the worst when it comes to criminal behavior. They are characterized by their potential for significant harm to individuals or society as a whole. Law enforcement uses a schema of letters to classify these offenses, with Class A being the most serious and Class E being the least. 

Felony Class Possible Sentences Possible Fines
First-Degree Murder Death penalty or life imprisonment N/A
Class A Felonies 15-60 years in prison Up to $50,000
Class B Felonies 8-30 years in prison Up to $25,000
Class C Felonies 3-15 years in prison Up to $10,000
Class D Felonies 2-12 years in prison Up to $5,000
Class E Felonies 1-6 years in prison Up to $3,000


Some types of felonies include:

  • Homicide: The unlawful killing of another person, which can be classified into various degrees based on the circumstances.
  • Aggravated assault: A severe form of assault, often involving the use of a weapon or causing severe bodily injury.
  • Robbery: The act of taking property from another person through the use of force or intimidation.
  • Drug trafficking: The illegal sale, distribution, or transportation of controlled substances in large quantities.

Misdemeanors in Tennessee

A misdemeanor is a less serious criminal charge than a felony. The fact is that almost anything that’s not classified as a felony falls under this category of criminal offense. These offenses are also categorized by class, but they only go up to Class C as the most severe charge.

Misdemeanor Class Possible Jail Time Possible Fines
Class A Misdemeanors Up to 11 months, 29 days Up to $2,500
Class B Misdemeanors Up to 6 months Up to $500
Class C Misdemeanors Up to 30 days Up to $50


Among the examples of misdemeanors are:

  • Simple assault: Non-aggravated forms of assault that result in less severe injuries.
  • Theft: Stealing property with a value below the felony threshold.
  • DUI (Driving Under the Influence): Operating a vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
  • Disorderly conduct: Engaging in disruptive behavior that disturbs the peace or safety of others.

Key Differences Between Misdemeanors and Felonies

So, how do misdemeanors and felonies differ? It goes deeper than just the names since it significantly influences the legal consequences and long-term impact on your life, depending on which one you’re convicted of. 

The major differences between these two criminal charge classifications are as follows:

The Severity of the Offense

The primary difference between felonies and misdemeanors in Tennessee lies in the severity of the crime committed. Felonies involve more serious actions that pose a greater threat to public safety or individual well-being, whereas misdemeanors typically involve less severe conduct.

Punishment and Sentencing

Felonies carry more substantial penalties, including longer prison sentences and higher fines. Misdemeanors, on the other hand, come with shorter jail sentences and lower monetary penalties. 

Civil Rights Impact

Conviction of a felony in Tennessee may lead to the loss of certain civil rights, such as the right to vote, possess firearms, or hold public office. Misdemeanor convictions generally have less impact on these rights.

Expungement Options

Tennessee law allows for the expungement (removal) of certain convictions from an individual’s criminal record after a specified waiting period. Expungement is only available for certain Class D and Class E felonies, while many misdemeanor crimes may be expunged except for ineligible misdemeanors

Facing Misdemeanor or Felony Charges? Contact The Law Office of Sam Byrd

Being charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony is not the end of the world. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you deal with the infraction and face the world on the other side. The Law Office of Sam Byrd has a long history of excellence in criminal law.

With us at your side, you can rest assured that your legal team will have your best interests in mind at all times.

Contact us today for a consultation and learn more about what you might be facing.

Author Bio

Sam Byrd is the owner and managing attorney at The Law Office of Sam Byrd. With hands-on experience in divorce, family law, criminal law, and DUI/DWI cases, Sam has been serving clients in Tennessee since 2012. He graduated with a J.D. from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in 2012 and holds a B.S. in Legal Studies from the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga, where he graduated summa cum laude in 2009.

He began his legal career as a paralegal, working under his father’s guidance. Prior to that, Sam served in the United States Marine Corps as a member of the 2/7 Weapons Company stationed at 29 Palms, California.

Sam has received several accolades for his work, including being recognized as a Rising Star in Divorce & Family Law by Tennessee SuperLawyers in 2020, 2019, and 2018. He is also a member of The National Trial Lawyers’ Top 40 under 40, an exclusive professional organization for top trial lawyers under the age of 40. Sam’s commitment to continuous learning and improvement is demonstrated by his certifications in Trial Skills from the National College of DUI Defense in 2019 and 2018.

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