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North Carolina Criminal Law: Felonies vs. Misdemeanors

What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor? In merry old England, from where we inherited our criminal law, a felony was a crime for which someone could serve at least one year or more. And a misdemeanor was a less serious crime for which the penalty was less than a year.

In North Carolina, crimes that were a misdemeanor at common law (inherited from colonial and early state history) remain misdemeanors, and crimes that were felonies at common law remain felonies.

But the legislature can override the common law, and establish whether a crime is a misdemeanor or a felony.

Note that just because you’re convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor, does not mean you will spend any time in jail at all. Sentencing in North Carolina has also been changed, and no longer follows the old English (or common law) system.

Here’s the statute:

§ 14-1. Felonies and misdemeanors defined.
A felony is a crime which:
(1) Was a felony at common law;
(2) Is or may be punishable by death;
(3) Is or may be punishable by imprisonment in the State’s prison;
or
(4) Is denominated as a felony by statute

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