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Understanding the Difference Between Felony & Misdemeanor

It goes without saying that there’s a significant difference between committing speeding or traffic violations and a crime or homicide in terms of punishment. The first may lead to imprisonment, while the latter leads to smaller fines. These two scenarios can best differentiate between a felony and a misdemeanor.

In this article, we will share what the law entails in the state of Massachusetts regarding felonies and misdemeanors:

Felony versus misdemeanor

First, let’s take a look at the definitions of both as set by the state:

  • Felony: It is defined as any form of crime that can be punished through imprisonment sentenced for up to life in prison. This crime varies from one form to another, which can include homicide, rape, child sex abuse, burglary, theft or fraud, armed robbery, and drug and narcotics charges. Apart from a prison sentence, one can also suffer from a potential loss of certain privileges and Constitutional rights, such as US citizenship, residency, immigration benefits, right of suffrage, and employment.
  • Misdemeanor: It is defined as an offense that cannot be punished by a state prison sentence. However, sentences for this scenario can include incarceration in the house of correction or periods of probation. A few examples of this offense include violation of city ordinances, traffic violations, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, domestic violence, and physical assault. They are still considered serious, which are typically handled by the district or municipal court.

What the law says in Massachusetts 

It’s worth knowing how felonies and misdemeanors are defined under the General Laws of Massachusetts. To be specific, they can be found in chapter 274, section. The legislature wrote in section 1:

“A crime punishable by death or imprisonment in the state prison is a felony. All other crimes are misdemeanors.” 

In a legal sense, the section above clearly defines the difference between the two cases. 

Two criminal trial courts in Massachusetts 

It’s worth noting that two criminal trial courts in the state implement the rules of law and set the distinction between felony and misdemeanor. Take note of the following:

  • District courts (or municipal court, in Boston): They listen to cases that can have the verdict of state prison sentences or house of correction sentences at the trial level. For instance, attempted murder is a felony that can be sentenced to the house of correction or state prison. Because of this, the district court can hear this prosecution, though that they cannot hear offenses with a state prison sentence only.
  • Superior courts: They have the power to hear any criminal prosecution of a Massachusetts criminal case at the trial level. For instance, a person accused of a felony, convicted of a murder case, and sentenced to a state prison can only be heard by this court. However, the district court cannot hear this case.


At this point, you now understand that the major difference between the two offenses lies in the state prison sentence. As defined above, an act of felony leads to imprisonment while a misdemeanor does not. A misdemeanor, however, is subject to a house of correction sentence. Even if this sentence is going to be served for two years, it’s still considered a misdemeanor. A felony, on the other hand, will be dealt with a state prison sentence, no matter how long it will be served. Ultimately, both are considered serious offenses that any individual shouldn’t commit. 

We’re a criminal law firm in Boston specializing in personal injury, criminal defense, and medical malpractice. If you’re looking for the best criminal lawyer for your felony or misdemeanor case, get in touch with us today for a free consultation!