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What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?

On Behalf of | Aug 8, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

In Washington, there are several different categories of criminal offenses. Two major categories are felonies and misdemeanors.

If you find yourself involved in a legal situation in Washington, you need to understand the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. While both can lead to legal penalties, they have distinct differences in seriousness, handling by the legal system and long-term consequences on an individual’s life.

Definitions of felony and misdemeanor

Felony offenses in Washington are more severe than misdemeanors. They typically involve violence, significant harm or threat to others. Crimes such as murder and rape fall into the felony category. In contrast, misdemeanors are less severe and may include acts like shoplifting or driving under the influence.


Washington categorizes felonies into three classes. Class A felonies, the most severe, encompass crimes like murder and can lead to life imprisonment and substantial fines. Class B felonies include offenses like robbery, resulting in up to 10 years in prison and significant fines. Class C felonies, which are the least severe among felonies, include crimes like theft and can result in up to 5 years in prison and considerable fines.


Misdemeanors are also divided into categories. Simple misdemeanors include less serious crimes and can lead to a relatively short jail term and smaller fines. Gross misdemeanors are more serious, like DUI offenses, and can result in a jail term of up to 364 days and more substantial fines.

The impact on the individual

Felony convictions usually have a more significant and lasting impact on a person’s life compared to misdemeanors. A felony conviction might lead to the loss of certain rights, such as the right to vote or own firearms, and can affect future employment opportunities. Misdemeanor convictions are still serious but generally have less severe long-term consequences. They may still influence employment in certain fields but often not as severely as felony convictions.

Knowing the distinction between felonies and misdemeanors is important for individuals to navigate the legal system in Washington effectively. Whether for personal understanding or facing legal challenges, recognizing these differences can make a substantial difference in how you approach the law in Washington.

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