The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is not always clear-cut from state to state in the US, or in other countries. In general, it is fair to say that a misdemeanor can be defined by the maximum length of time a person can be incarcerated for the crime, usually no more than one year. Crimes with a minimum jail time of over a year are usually felonies. Moreover, one can say that any crime not a felony, is by nature a misdemeanor.
In the cases where purposeful damage has been done to property, or where property is stolen, the charge of misdemeanor or felony may be decided based on the dollar amount of damage or missing property. For example, in Arizona, if one incurs purposeful damage that costs under $250 US dollars (USD), he or she is charged with a misdemeanor. If however, the damage is between $250 - $2000 USD, the charge is generally a class 6 felony. Higher amounts of damage may up the class of the felony and result in more time in a penitentiary.
Committing a misdemeanor after the age of 18 means that this will remain on one’s records. Potential employers who conduct background checks will generally know about these charges, so it is important to be honest if one has been convicted of a crime. A felony will also remain on the records, particularly if committed by an adult. In these cases, some people with felony convictions have difficulty finding employment, which can contribute to criminal recidivism.
If one commits a misdemeanor prior to one’s 18th birthday, such as disturbing the peace or committing petty theft, records can be expunged when one turns 18. This may not always be the case with felonies, especially if those accused are charged as adults. Even if one is not convicted of a crime, an arrest record may still exist, which may be problematic on background checks when one seeks employment.
Misdemeanor crimes tend not to bar one from working in public law enforcement or the armed forces. Some felonies committed by minors may be overlooked as long as the person can prove changed behavior. In most cases, however, a felony conviction bars one from working for most military branches, and might also influence one’s ability to get security clearance for jobs in the private sector. If you have committed a misdemeanor and cannot get the record expunged, there might be help if you are able to clearly explain the crime, and how you have changed since it occurred.
Regardless of whether a crime is classed as felony or misdemeanor, certain crimes will bar one from employment in certain fields. Any crimes that require one to register for life as a sex offender means that one cannot teach or be employed in a job that gives one regular contact with children. Most sex offense crimes are felonies, but occasionally plea bargains can reduce charges to misdemeanors. This may affect length of time incarcerated, but will not affect laws regarding registry as a sex offender.
Some feel that the distinction between felony and misdemeanor is occasionally arbitrary. For example, in some states, domestic violence against a spouse or child is a misdemeanor. In other states it is a felony. It seems to many that it is unfair to commit the same crime and receive less punishment because of softer laws. A current petition is being circulated to direct the federal government to urge states to consider all forms of domestic violence as felonious offenses. Many other legal groups are also trying to address the inherent unfairness of some crimes’ classifications.