Criminal Defense Law Center
West Michigan

Misdemeanor vs Felony Charges in Michigan

A lot of people who love to watch crime dramas have seen the terms “felony” and “misdemeanor” used a lot when talking about the alleged crimes of the accused. So, what do these terms mean and what is the difference between these two crimes in Michigan?

Quite often, we get asked by our client to explain what the difference is between a misdemeanor vs felony criminal charge. This question is brought up a lot when my client is facing a charge that can either be brought as a misdemeanor or felony. 

Examples of charges that can be brought up as a felony or misdemeanor are OWI’s, drug charges, indecent exposure and embezzlement.

I always inform my clients that a misdemeanor is a less serious charge than a felony. It is always better to be facing a misdemeanor rather than a felony charge. Felony charges also cost a lot more because the negative impact from this type of conviction is a lot more serious than a misdemeanor.

What Is The Difference Between A Misdemeanor Vs Felony?

The main difference under Michigan law between a misdemeanor vs felony charge is the amount of incarceration a person faces. The law does not allow a person to be locked up longer than one year for a misdemeanor conviction. A person can get a felony conviction and not do any time in jail or be sent to prison, but a person facing a misdemeanor will never face time in prison.

So, are the terms jail and prison different? In many instances these terms are used interchangeably. However, they are very different in their meaning. A jail is run by the local County Sheriff and prisons are run by the Michigan Department of Corrections. (MDOC)  As mentioned above, the amount of time served in jail cannot be longer than one year. A prison sentence means a person will be doing at least over a year and sometimes life without parole and anything in between.  So, when a person in Michigan talks about someone is doing “seven months in prison” you know that really means the convict is in jail. When you hear someone say a person is doing “three years in jail,” you know they are talking about a person who is currently sitting in prison.

Many drug charges like heroin or cocaine possession, possession of LSD and analogues (which include drugs like Xanax, Vicodin and oxycontin) are felony charges even though they are not viewed as very serious felonies like rape and robbery. The vast majority of the time a person convicted of these charges only faces a small jail sentence not prison time.

There are certain misdemeanor cases that can work their way up to a felony charge if someone keeps getting arrested for the same thing over and over again. Drunk driving is a good example of this. If you get a first offense drunk driving charge, it is a misdemeanor. If you get a second OWI in seven years it become a second offense which is still a misdemeanor and if you get a third DUI in your lifetime it become a felony charge.

Another example of how a misdemeanor can work its way up to a felony is the amount of money taken. If an individual embezzles 300 dollars from his employer, the charge this person faces is only a misdemeanor. However, if the person doesn’t get caught right away and eventually take over $1,000 or more the charge will become a felony.

A felony charge in Michigan is usually resolved in circuit court. Every so often, if you have a good lawyer retained, a felony charge can be lowered to a misdemeanor right away and then the case is finalized in district court.

Misdemeanors Penalties

Misdemeanors are divided into three categories based on their corresponding penalties:

  1. 93-day misdemeanors
  2. .1-year misdemeanors
  3. .High court misdemeanors


The most serious misdemeanor charges are high court misdemeanors. These charges are similar to felony charges. An example of this type of charge is aggravated indecent exposure. Examples of one-year misdemeanors are second offense OWI and domestic violence second offense. Examples of a 93-day misdemeanor include Dui first offense and retail fraud in the third degree.

The vast majority of 93-day misdemeanors are violations of a local ordinance. A city attorney usually prosecutes these types of charges. For example, if you are caught shoplifting in Grandville, you will be prosecuted by a local ordinance by the Grandville City Attorney. Kentwood, Michigan is another city that prosecutes misdemeanors by local ordinance. City attorneys submit annual bids to the local city or township board to do all of the legal work for the city. These lawyers are not only doing criminal cases, but they are doing zoning cases and civil lawsuits for their client. These attorneys are not full-time prosecutors so often times they are easier to work out deals with.

Another 93-day misdemeanor kind is a state law violation. These charges will be handled by the local prosecutor’s office. A charge is a state law rather than a local ordinance because the municipality created a law which makes the offense a state law.

A felony charge is punishable by over a year in prison and are divided into eight different classes. These classes are based on severity and Class A felonies are the most serious felony charges.

Michigan Felony Offense Penalties

  1. Class A felonies: Up to life in prison
  2. Class B felonies: Up to 20 years in prison
  3. Class C felonies: Up to 15 years in prison
  4. Class D felonies: Up to 10 years in prison
  5. Class E felonies: Up to 5 years in prison
  6. Class F felonies: Up to 4 years in prison
  7. Class G felonies: Up to 2 years in prison
  8. Class H felonies: Jail time or alternative sentencing


Besides prison time, Michigan courts are able to hammer people with expensive fines. A person’s reputation will also be hit with serious damage. A person will forfeit such rights as the ability to carry a firearm, vote and obtain or keep professional licenses.

Statute of Limitations Under Michigan Law

The State of Michigan requires that a prosecutor bring criminal charges within a certain period of time after the crime has been committed. The limitation bars a prosecutor from filing criminal charges after a certain period of time has gone by.

Under Mich. Comp. Laws 767.24,

1) An indictment for any of the following crimes may be found and filed at any time:

  (a) Murder, conspiracy to commit murder, or solicitation to commit murder, or criminal sexual conduct in the first degree.

  (b) A violation of chapter XXXIII of the Michigan penal code, 1931 PA 328, MCL 750.200 to 750.212a, that is punishable by imprisonment for life.

  (c) A violation of chapter LXVIIA of the Michigan penal code, 1931 PA 328, MCL 750.462a to 750.462h, that is punishable by imprisonment for life.

  (d) A violation of the Michigan anti-terrorism act, chapter LXXXIII-A of the Michigan penal code, 1931 PA 328, MCL 750.543a to 750.543z, that is punishable by imprisonment for life.

For less serious charges here are some other time limits under the statute of limitations:

(7) An indictment for identity theft or attempted identity theft may be found and filed as follows:

  (a) Except as otherwise provided in subdivision (b), an indictment may be found and filed within 6 years after the offense is committed.

  (b) If evidence of the offense is obtained and the individual who committed the offense has not been identified, an indictment may be found and filed at any time after the offense is committed, but not more than 6 years after the individual is identified.

  (8) As used in subsection (7):

  (a) “Identified” means the individual’s legal name is known.

  (b) “Identity theft” means 1 or more of the following:

  (i) Conduct prohibited in section 5 or 7 of the identity theft protection act, 2004 PA 452, MCL 445.65 and 445.67.

  (ii) Conduct prohibited under former section 285 of the Michigan penal code, 1931 PA 328.

  (9) An indictment for false pretenses involving real property, forgery or uttering and publishing of an instrument affecting an interest in real property, or mortgage fraud may be found and filed within 10 years after the offense was committed or within 10 years after the instrument affecting real property was recorded, whichever occurs later.

  (10) All other indictments may be found and filed within 6 years after the offense is committed.

  (11) Any period during which the party charged did not usually and publicly reside within this state is not part of the time within which the respective indictments may be found and filed.

  (12) The extension or tolling, as applicable, of the limitations period provided in this section applies to any of those violations for which the limitations period has not expired at the time the extension or tolling takes effect.

Our Misdemeanor And Felony Criminal Defense Attorneys

No matter what kind of criminal charges you are facing, misdemeanor vs felony, you need to retain experienced and exceptional counsel. Call me today at 616-438-6719. I will be happy to answer any questions you might have regarding misdemeanor vs. felony charges.  Me and my team of lawyers know how to get their clients the best results possible! Do not wait to call me! The longer you wait the worse your situation will get. The call is free. Will you be?

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