Georgia Criminal Law 101: What is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

Practically all states divide criminal offenses into different categories based on their seriousness. This differentiation determines how the courts treat and punish a given offense. With misdemeanors and felonies, the primary differentiator is the severity of the crime.


In Georgia, misdemeanors are defined by local ordinance. They are comparatively minor offenses punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1000. Common examples include shoplifting, trespassing, and DUI. Although illegal, these tend to be non-violent incidents that people often commit by mistake and are not indicative of a criminal nature.

Some misdemeanors are automatically upgraded to “aggravated” versions: while this typically happens when you have been convicted of the same offense several times in a specified time period, there are some crimes that are charged as an aggravated misdemeanor even if you have no criminal record. They include:

  • Battery against a pregnant woman
  • Pimping
  • Aggressive driving
  • Fleeing from the police

Like regular misdemeanors, these higher offenses can result in a 12-month jail sentence, but the fine can be as high as $5,000.

Although not as serious as felonies, a misdemeanor conviction can incur significant consequences in Georgia. They include:

  • Jail time and fines
  • Community service
  • Inability to apply for a federal student loan
  • Loss of driving privileges
  • Loss of right to own a firearm or obtain a concealed carry permit
  • Publication of your photo in the local newspaper


Felonies are serious crimes. Unlike a misdemeanor, these offenses cause severe harm or damage to another person and/or their property. Many of them are violent, which is why the penalties are much harsher.

In Georgia, felony offenses include but are not limited to the following:

  • Murder and manslaughter
  • Rape
  • Burglary
  • Robbery
  • Arson
  • Kidnapping
  • Possession of over an ounce of marijuana
  • Possession of any other drug
  • Certain repeat DUI and traffic charges

Felonies are punished by a minimum of one year imprisonment, in addition to significant fines. Depending on the charge, you could spend anywhere from a year to your entire life in prison or even face the death penalty. When (or if) you are released, you can lose your right to vote or own a firearm. At the very least, you will have a permanent criminal record.

A criminal record affects your ability to get a job, apply for a student loan to access higher education, and access Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or food stamps (for drug offenses). If you are an immigrant, your status in the United States can be jeopardized, potentially leading to deportation.

Don’t let one mistake affect your happiness and success for years to come: contact an Atlanta criminal lawyer for counsel and representation. At Pak and McRae Law, LLC, we spare no effort to make sure this one mistake doesn’t define your future. To meet with one of our attorneys, please contact us here.

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Pak & McRae Law

At Pak and McRae Law, LLC we provide straightforward, sincere criminal defense for local, state, and federal matters. Our team includes a former Assistant District Attorney, so we understand how prosecutors approach cases and will use those insights to benefit your case.

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