Misdemeanor vs Felony: What’s The Difference?

by | Jun 12, 2023 | Felony Defense, Misdemeanor Defense

Updated: June 12, 2023 | Original Post: January 14, 2019

Table of Contents:

All Crimes Are Serious, But Not All Crimes Are Created Equal

While there are significant differences between a misdemeanor vs felony in Colorado, they share one fundamental and critical similarity: they are all crimes. If El Paso County prosecutors convict you or you plead guilty to either type of offense, you will face consequences that can cost you a lot in the short term and even more in the long run, including time behind bars and hefty fines.

That is why we do not believe that there is any such thing as a “minor” criminal offense. Even though misdemeanors typically involve less severe penalties than felonies, you should always consult with an experienced Colorado Springs criminal defense lawyer regardless of whether you face misdemeanor or felony charges.

What You’ll Learn in This Post:

  • While there is no such thing as a minor crime, felonies are generally more serious offenses than misdemeanors and involve harsher penalties upon conviction.
  • Both misdemeanors and felonies can result in time behind bars, with misdemeanor convictions served in county jail and felony sentences served in a Colorado state prison.
  • Misdemeanor and felony convictions both go on your permanent record and can limit future opportunities and result in the loss of essential rights and privileges.

Here is what you need to know about the differences between a misdemeanor vs felony in Colorado.

Colorado Misdemeanors

Colorado law includes three categories of criminal offenses: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. The most common infractions involve traffic violations offenses such as speeding or running a red light. Of the three types of offenses, infractions are the only ones that do not involve potential incarceration upon conviction. However, they come with penalties and other obligations, which are avoidable if you hire a Colorado Springs traffic lawyer.

But when considering a misdemeanor vs felony, both include time behind bars as a potential consequence of a conviction. While incarceration for a felony will be in a Colorado state prison, a misdemeanor conviction could lead to time spent in a county jail.

Colorado law divides misdemeanors into three classes, with Class One misdemeanors being the most serious:

Class One Misdemeanors

Class One misdemeanors are punishable by six to 18 months in El Paso County jail, a $500 to $5,000 fine, or both.

Class Two Misdemeanors

A conviction for a class two misdemeanor can lead to three to 12 months of jail time, fines between $250 and $1,000, or both.

Class Three Misdemeanors

Class Three misdemeanors can result in up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $750, or both.

misdemeanor vs felonyCommon examples of Colorado misdemeanors include:

  • Petty theft
  • Reckless driving
  • Trespassing
  • Vandalism
  • Public intoxication
  • Simple assault
  • Prostitution

Depending on the severity of the crime, a sentence for a misdemeanor will not always include jail time. Instead of jail, a misdemeanor sentence may include:

  • Probation.
  • Suspension of a driver’s license.
  • Community service.
  • The payment of restitution to the victim of the crime.

Misdemeanor convictions also become part of your criminal history that can interfere with future employment, education, housing, and other opportunities.

Expunging a Misdemeanor From your Criminal Records

While you cannot expunge adult misdemeanor convictions from your record, you may be able to petition a court to seal your record after serving your sentence. Once sealed, the conviction no longer appears on publicly available records. That means that employers and landlords will not see the conviction when doing background checks.

But some Colorado misdemeanors are ineligible for sealing. These include:

  • Class One misdemeanor traffic offenses
  • Class Two misdemeanor traffic offenses
  • Class A traffic infractions
  • Class B traffic infractions
  • Crimes involving a commercial driver’s license
  • Crimes involving domestic violence

Colorado Felonies

In comparing a misdemeanor vs felony, a felony is the most serious crime classification. Punishment for a felony in Colorado includes incarceration in state prison and fines up to $150,000.

misdemeanor vs felonySome examples of felony crimes include:

  • Robbery
  • Rape
  • Murder
  • Arson
  • Grand theft
  • Perjury

Colorado felony offenses fall into six classes, each based on the offense’s relative “seriousness” and other factors such as prior criminal history or unique circumstances of the crime. The more serious the class of felony, the harsher the possible punishment.

For each of Colorado’s six felony classes, the Colorado legislature has established a “presumptive range” of penalties upon conviction. El Paso County judges may impose sentences beyond the presumptive range for certain felonies or felonies committed under specific circumstances. Generally, a judge may impose an enhanced sentence greater than the maximum of the presumptive range if the felony was:

  • a crime of violence
  • an “extraordinary risk” crime
  • committed by someone who is a “habitual criminal”
  • committed against an “at-risk” victim
  • committed with aggravating circumstances

After you’ve served your time, or even if you serve no time at all, a felony conviction may have a significant impact on your fundamental rights and opportunities, such as your right to:

misdemeanor vs felony

  • carry firearms
  • vote
  • travel abroad
  • apply for certain government benefits, loans, or grants
  • serve on a jury
  • some parental rights
  • serve on a jury

On top of that, you may lose many opportunities for employment, loans, housing, or professional licenses in the future.

And if you’re a foreign national, a felony conviction may affect your immigration status and lead to deportation.

DUI: Misdemeanor vs Felony in Colorado

Most first-time DUIs in Colorado are misdemeanors if they don’t involve injury or death. So too, are most second and third DUI convictions, though the punishments for those subsequent DUIs are harsher. But if you face a fourth DUI or your actions while driving under the influence result in an person being hurt or killed, there is a good chance Colorado prosecutors will charge you with a felony.

Related: Is There a Mandatory Jail Sentence for DUI in Colorado?

In some circumstances, an individual facing a felony DUI charge may negotiate with prosecutors to reduce their charges to a misdemeanor. But doing so is not a guarantee and is not easy. That is why you need an experienced DUI attorney on your side, no matter what kind of DUI charge you face.

The Colorado “Wobbler Statute”

In Colorado, prosecutors can bring charges for certain offenses as either a misdemeanor or a felony; these crimes are called “wobblers.” The surrounding circumstances of the crime will play heavily in the final classification.

As with reducing a DUI from a felony to a misdemeanor, a skilled criminal defense attorney can be the key to a favorable charging decision on a “wobbler” offense or a plea bargain that reduces the charges.

Misdemeanor vs Felony – Both Come with Serious Consequences

If this comparison of misdemeanor vs felony teaches you anything, a conviction for either one can have long-term consequences on your life.

Colorado Springs criminal defense lawyers at James Newby Law understand that there is no such thing as a “minor” criminal conviction, even for misdemeanors. When you schedule your free initial consultation, we will evaluate your case, advise you of your options, and develop a strategy to get you the best possible result.

Take your case as seriously as prosecutors do – contact James Newby Law today.

James Newby

James Newby

James Newby is a criminal defense attorney in Colorado Springs and the managing attorney of the criminal justice law firm James Newby Law. James got into law because of a deep-rooted passion for helping good people that may have made a poor choice that could have lasting consequences.