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Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor in Utah

Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor in Utah

There are differences between felonies and misdemeanors in Utah. If law enforcement believes you have committed a crime; then either the district attorney, city prosecutor, or attorney general’s office will usually charge you with either a misdemeanor or a felony, or maybe even multiple crimes. They both may mean time in jail or prison. You may also be found guilty of an infraction, such as driving through a red light, but that is punishable only by a fine, up to $1,000.


A misdemeanor, which is the lesser of the two main types of crimes in Utah, results in shorter punishment time. If you are punished for a misdemeanor, you may go to jail for as long as one year. For a class a misdemeanor, such as theft, but you won’t be sent to prison. You may also be charged as much as $2,500.For a class B misdemeanor, such as drug possession, the punishment may be six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.A class C conviction, such as being drunk and disorderly, may get you as long as 90 days in jail and a fine up to $750.


Utah judges a felony to be the major crime, which may include burglary, rape, kidnapping, sale id illegal drugs or theft. The punishment ranges from life in prison without parole for what is called a capital crime such as murder; to first degree, which may mean five years to life; second degree, with a prison term of 1-15 years; or third degree, punishable by as much as five years in prison. Many factors enter into a judgment of felony or misdemeanor and the degree of each in the State of Utah. If you have been charged with either crime in any degree, make that call to Howard Lewis & Petersen. We are proven Provo Utah Attorneys. Don’t try to fight a charge of felony or misdemeanor alone. For such a charge in Utah, you need the best defense. That is what we do. Call a Provo criminal law attorney because we can help.


The main difference between felonies and misdemeanors are the severity of the punishment attached. A felony is a more serious type of crime than a misdemeanor, and thus carries a more severe punishment.
Utah has adopted certain statutes that provide whether a crime is a felony or a misdemeanor. These statutes together are called the “Utah Code.”


A felony is any kind of criminal violation that allows for a defendant to be sent to prison for more than one year. It is considered as more severe type of crime with severe imprisonment.

Felonies are classified into the four categories listed below. The most serious kind of felony is a capital felony, and the least severe kind of felony is a 3rd degree felony. For each felony, there is a default prison sentence; however, the respective criminal statute may provide for something more or less severe.
• Capital Felony. A capital felony is a felony in which the death penalty is sought as punishment for the crime.
• First Degree Felony. A first degree felony carries a prison term of 5 years to life plus up to a $10,000 fine.
• Second Degree Felony. A second degree felony carries a prison term of 1 – 15 years plus up to a $10,000 fine.
• Third Degree Felony. A third degree felony carries a prison term of less than 5 years plus up to a $5,000 fine.


Misdemeanors are classified into three categories with each bearing a sentence for an indeterminate term that does not exceed one year. The most severe type of misdemeanor is a Class a misdemeanor and the least severe type of misdemeanor is a Class C misdemeanor. Unlike felonies where a defendant is usually sentenced to prison, individuals convicted of misdemeanors will typically serve jail time, if they serve any time at all.
 Class A Misdemeanor. An individual convicted of a Class A misdemeanor will not be sent to prison (unless they are also convicted of other crimes), but they will be committed to a jail or other holding facility in the town, city, or county where the individual was convicted. Class A misdemeanors also carry a fine up of up to $2,500.
 Class B Misdemeanor. Possible incarceration and a fine of up to $1,000.
 Class C misdemeanors. A fine of up to $750.

How does a person know whether an alleged crime is a felony or a misdemeanor?

It will list the information in the charging document. The charging document will be called an “information” or a “citation” or something similar to that. It is a good idea to call a lawyer that does criminal defense work to ask these types of questions. They can guide you to know the next steps you should take.

Examples of Misdemeanors versus Felonies

In the United States federal criminal code, crimes are divided into two broad categories: misdemeanors and felonies. The distinction here is one of maximum punishment; misdemeanors are crimes that carry a maximum of twelve months incarceration (jail time) and felonies are those crimes that have punishments in excess of twelve months incarceration. A crime can have the same general classification but be broken down into several levels of severity, some of which may raise the seriousness from a misdemeanor to a felony.


A good example of multiple levels of severity is the general class of crime referred to as assault. In the case of assault, threatening to cause harm to a person but not carrying through on the threat would be classified as a misdemeanor. Assault that resulted in actual body injury, or in which a weapon was used as part of the assault, will be considered a felony.


Theft is another example of a crime that has differing levels of severity. Petty theft is the unlawful taking of property or money from another person without their consent. The distinction between whether theft is a misdemeanor or a felony is dependent on the value of the cash or property stolen. Many states consider theft of up to $500 a misdemeanor and larger amounts to be a felony. Felony theft is often referred to as larceny.

Indecent Exposure

Other crimes are distinguished as being misdemeanors or felonies depending on whom the crime is committed against. The crime of indecent exposure falls into this category. Exposing one’s private parts in public in such a way as to alarm others is considered to be a misdemeanor. However, if the exposure is before a child, then the crime rises to the level of a felony. Different states set different age limits as to where the line exists between misdemeanor and felony indecent exposure.

Traffic Violations

In most instances, traffic violations are classified as misdemeanors. Examples of misdemeanor traffic violations include:
• Speeding
• Driving without a license
• Driving without insurance
• Driving under the influence (DUI)
Felony traffic violations include: leaving the scene of an accident and vehicular homicide.
Another potential felony traffic infraction is repeated DUI’s. In this case, many states upgrade repeated charges of DUI from misdemeanor to felony status. While the criminal act being committed is the same, multiple violations can result in a felony charge that carries harsher punishments.

Jail Time for Misdemeanors versus Felonies

The primary difference between misdemeanors and felonies is the amount of jail time that a convicted offender can be sentenced to serve. Many felonies are also broken down into classifications, or levels of seriousness, according to what punishments may be imposed.
Felonies that are broken down into these differing classifications include:
• Murder
• Rape
• Arson
• Sale of illegal drugs
• Grand theft
• Kidnapping
These felonies can be classified from Class 1, 2 and 3. Felonies such as the lowest levels of theft up to Class 1 felonies which carry a life’s sentence in prison or the death penalty. Class 1 felonies are generally murder or first degree intentional homicide.

Severity of Punishments

The classification of misdemeanors and felonies is legally based on the severity of punishments and the most severe of punishments are reserved for the most serious offense. Traffic violations, trespass, petty theft and similar offenses are misdemeanors and depending on the state, carry maximum jail times of between 6 months and 1 year. The attendant fines are also limited to relatively small amounts of money, generally $1000 to $2000 maximum.
Felonies such as murder, rape, arson and kidnapping are substantially more serious and all carry jail times of at least one year and in most cases, substantially greater terms of incarceration. At the most severe level of felony classification, Class A, the maximum penalty can be life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

Felony and Misdemeanor Legal Help

If you are accused of or arrested for a felony or misdemeanor, you will want legal assistance, either to help prove your innocence or negotiate a lesser charge or sentence.

Say, for example, you are charged with felony possession, which is when someone possesses a certain amount of an illegal substance, such as cocaine or marijuana. You would want to get the best criminal lawyers you can afford. That is because sentencing for felony possession can entail multiple years in prison. Even in situations involving misdemeanors, you may want to seek legal representation. If you cannot afford legal representation, you can have a defense attorney appointed to you. This attorney is known as a public defender. If you can afford a private criminal defense attorney, you should call our office for a free consultation.

Consequences of a Felony and a Misdemeanor Conviction

Generally speaking, if you are found guilty of a felony, you face at least a year in prison. However, prison sentences can be much longer, and may even result in the death penalty. You may also have to pay fines or other restitution. Not surprisingly, misdemeanor convictions carry less serious sentences. If someone found guilty of a misdemeanor, you would face less than a year of imprisonment and might have a sentence that do not include any jail time. Punishment for a misdemeanor crime can also include fines, probation and/or community service.

In addition, convicted felons face long-term consequences even after they’ve fulfilled their punishment. Felons can lose the right to vote, work in certain fields, obtain certain licenses and serve on juries. In some instances, felony convictions will publicly follow you for the rest of your life. People convicted of sexual offenses, for example, are included in state databases that can be easily accessed and searched. Sexual offenders may also be required to tell neighbors about their crimes before moving into a new home.

Criminal Defense Lawyer Free Consultation

When you need legal help with a criminal case, please call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD


Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506