If you are going through the federal criminal process, it is important to understand how the federal government defines things specifically. There is often a lot of difference between states and the federal government concerning legal terms.

The two broadest categories of crimes are felonies and misdemeanors. According to FindLaw, on the federal level a misdemeanor is a charge that can carry a jail term of up to but no more than one year.

What is a misdemeanor?

Misdemeanors are less serious crimes. According to the federal government there are three different varieties of misdemeanors: Class A, Class B and Class C. A Class C misdemeanor is the least serious, carrying a potential jail sentence of up to 30 days but more than 5. The Class A misdemeanor is the most serious misdemeanor, with a jail sentence of up to one year but more than 6 months.

Generally speaking, if the government convicts you of a misdemeanor you will serve your sentence at a local jail as opposed to a federal prison.

What is a felony?

Felonies include the most serious crimes, like rape, murder, arson, and kidnapping. The federal government has five classes of felonies, ranging from class A to class E. The Class A felony is the most serious, carrying a potential penalty of either life imprisonment or the death penalty. A Class E felony is the least serious with a potential jail term of less than 5 years but more than one.

Criminal procedure is generally much more strict with a felony case, since the potential consequences are much higher. Whereas it is very common for prosecutors to negotiate with misdemeanor charges, it is less common with felony charges.