What’s the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

Every state classifies crimes into felonies and misdemeanors. Legislators decide to classify a crime as a felony or misdemeanor based on the seriousness of the crime. More serious crimes are punished more severely, while less serious crimes carry a less severe punishment.

To better understand the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor, it is instructive to look at the statute. Under Wyoming law, “Crimes which may be punished by death or by imprisonment for more than one (1) year are felonies. All other crimes are misdemeanors.”

Misdemeanor Crimes

Misdemeanors are criminal offenses that carry a maximum sentence of up to one year in jail. In addition to jail time, punishment for a misdemeanor may include paying a fine, probation, community service, and restitution.

Misdemeanors often involve non-violent crimes like Driving While Under the Influence, Assault, and many first-time drug offenses.

Misdemeanor crimes are further divided into Class A, Class B, and Class C offenses, with a Class A misdemeanor being the most severe.

In most misdemeanor cases that result in a jail sentence, jail time is served in a local county jail instead of a high-security prison.

Felony Crimes

Felonies are the most serious type of criminal offense. They often involve serious physical harm or the threat of harm to the victim, but they also include some drug crimes and white-collar crimes like fraud and other theft offenses.

Felonies carry a potential punishment of more than one year in prison. The most serious felonies can carry a sentence of life in prison or even the death penalty.

Someone convicted of a felony could lose the right to vote, the right to own firearms, the right to serve on a jury, the right to serve in an elected office, and the ability to seek a professional license.

Examples of Felony Crimes in Wyoming

Examples of felony crimes and their punishments in Wyoming include:

  • First-degree murder: death penalty or life in prison without parole
  • First-degree sexual assault: five to 50 years in prison
  • Armed burglary: five to 25 years in prison and a $50,000 fine
  • Aggravated assault and battery: up to 10 years in prison
  • Theft of property value at more than $10,000: up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000
  • Felony possession of a firearm: up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000

Repeat offenders face additional penalties. For example, someone who has two prior convictions and is convicted of a violent felony faces between 10 and 50 years in prison. If the violent felony is a person’s fourth or subsequent felony, they face life in prison.

Criminal Classifications in Wyoming

Many states designate crimes by class and set a punishment for each category. Wyoming does not. Instead, Wyoming sets penalties on a crime-by-crime basis. Unless otherwise specified by statute, misdemeanor crimes in Wyoming are punishable by up to six months in a county or local jail, a fine of up to $750, or both.

In the case of felony convictions, the court may impose a fine as part of the punishment. If the statute does not specify a maximum fine, the fine shall not be more than $10,000.

Criminal Sentencing in Wyoming

In addition to simply serving the prescribed sentence Wyoming authorizes various alternative sentencing options for some felony offenders.

Deferred Sentence. A first-time felony offender might qualify for a deferred sentence if the prosecution agrees and the defendant hasn't previously participated in the program. Under a deferred sentence, the defendant pleads guilty, but the judge does not enter the conviction. Instead, the judge places the defendant on probation for one to three years during which time the defendant must remain crime-free, must report to a probation officer, must pay restitution to the victims, and must obey any other terms imposed by the court. If the defendant successfully completes the program, the judge can dismiss the case, and no conviction will result.

Suspended Sentence. A judge may also issue a suspended sentence and place the defendant on probation. The judge can either suspend imposition or execution of the sentence.

If the judge suspends the imposition of sentencing, the judge enters the conviction but does not hand down a sentence.

When the judge suspends the execution of the sentence, the judge enters the conviction and the sentence but does not send the defendant to prison.

In either case, the sentence is only suspended if the defendant complies with the terms of probation. The judge can reduce the duration of probation if the defendant shows progress. Or, the judge may extend, modify, or revoke the probation if the defendant violates the terms of probation.

Contact Just Criminal Law Today

Being charged with a crime can be overwhelming. The defense team at Just Criminal Law has experience defending people accused of a wide variety of crimes. To put our expertise to work for you, contact Just Criminal Law today to schedule your personalized case review and strategy session.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is offered for educational purposes only. This information is not offered as legal advice. A person accused of a crime should always consult with an attorney before making decisions that have legal consequences.