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Loudoun County Attorneys > Blog > Criminal Defense > The Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor Charge

The Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor Charge


Misdemeanor and felony are common words heard when crimes are committed, but what exactly is the difference? In the eyes of the law, felonies are always more serious offenses compared to misdemeanors. What is considered a felony or misdemeanor can vary slightly from state to state. Virginia Code 18.2-8 defines a felony as any offense that would result in a sentencing to death or to a state correctional facility. All other offenses are considered misdemeanors with the exception of traffic infractions, which are not considered criminal in nature. Criminal offenses are further separated to help set standards for sentencing.


Virginia has separated felonies into six classes. An example of a Class 1 felony in Virginia would be murdering a person in exchange for money. Virginia has the death penalty and a person convicted of a Class 1 felony will either be sentenced to death or sentenced to life imprisonment. The least serious felony a person can be charged with is a Class 6 felony. The maximum punishment for such crimes would be five years in prison with a fine limit of $2,500. Simultaneously being in possession of an illegal Schedule I or II drug (such as cocaine) and in possession of a firearm is an example of a Class 6 felony in Virginia. Any individual over the age of 14 can be tried as an adult if the alleged crime is deemed a felony.

Prior Record

Prior records are also considered when it comes time to sentence a convicted individual. The Washington Post recently reported on a drug dealer who was sentenced to life because he was caught in what is commonly referred to as his “third strike.” He has two prior drug offenses so the final conviction led to a more serious minimum sentencing by which the judge was required to abide.


Virginia has separated misdemeanors into four classes with a Class 1 misdemeanor being the most serious infraction. A Class 1 misdemeanor has a maximum punishment of 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. Being convicted of a Class 4 misdemeanor results in a fine of up to $250. Driving under the influence is an example of a more serious misdemeanor.

Intent to Commit a Crime, Duress, and More

Even though the Commonwealth of Virginia has classified crimes into various felonies and misdemeanors, there isn’t always an exact answer for how to charge an individual. In addition to any prior criminal record that may exist, the court must consider extenuating circumstances. Was their intent to commit the crime? Was the crime committed under duress? Furthermore, plea deals may include reducing charges to a lower classification of crime. The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services also notes that misdemeanor charges can be waived for certain offenses if there is good cause shown. An example of good cause shown would be if you could prove you were speeding because you needed to get your passenger to the hospital because of serious injuries.

Contact a Leesburg Attorney Today

Regardless of the specific criminal charges that you are facing, we encourage you to contact a Leesburg, Fairfax, Winchester, or Manassas attorney at once. Call the law offices of Simms Showers, LLP today at 703-771-4671.



Disclaimer: This legal alert is provided for general information purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice particular to your situation. No recipients of this memo should act or refrain from acting solely on the basis of this memorandum without seeking professional legal counsel. Simms Showers LLP expressly disclaims all liability relating to actions taken or not taken based solely on the content of this memorandum. Please contact Caleb Kershner or Ben Mann at cak@simmsshowerslaw.com, wbm@simmsshowerslaw.com, or (703) 771-4671 for greater details concerning how this information may affect you.

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