Misdemeanor Or Felony: What’S The Difference?

Criminal charges can upend your plans and threaten your future. But not all criminal convictions are created equal. The consequences of conviction depend on whether you are facing a Colorado petty offense, misdemeanor or felony. Find out the difference between the types of convictions, and how to tell what charges you are facing.

This blog post will discuss how Colorado treats misdemeanor and felony convictions. It will explain how you can tell which type of charges you are facing, and how an experienced criminal defense attorney can help reduce the effect of a misdemeanor or felony conviction on your life and livelihood.

Petty Offense, Misdemeanor or Felony: How Do You Know?

Colorado law breaks criminal charges down into three categories: petty offenses, misdemeanors, and felonies. Each category is made up of classes. The class and the offense direct the possible sentence you will face if you are convicted. So how do you know what charges you are facing?

The first time you appear in front of a judge or magistrate is called an arraignment. At that hearing, the judge or magistrate will read you the charges against you and the maximum penalties you could face. You should also receive a paper that lists these charges. This could happen when you are talking to the police (like when you get a traffic ticket after a stop or at a checkpoint), or on the day of your arraignment.

These charging papers often use abbreviations or references to numbered sections of the Colorado criminal code. That can make them difficult to understand, so you will want to give them to an experienced criminal defense attorney who can explain to you whether you are facing a petty offense, misdemeanor or felony, and what the potential consequences might be for each time of charge.

Petty Offenses

Petty offenses are the least serious type of criminal charges in Colorado. They include things like theft (less than $50), some trespassing offenses, public indecency, littering, and tobacco sales to or by minors.

Petty offenses are broken up into two classes:

  • Class 1 petty offenses have a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail and/or $500 in fines
  • Class 2 petty offenses have no jail time and only involve fines set by the statute

What makes these crimes different is that, while Colorado residents have a right to a jury trial when they face petty offense charges, they have to ask for it within 21 days after entering their not-guilty plea. You will also have to pay a $25 jury fee, which will be returned if your case is dismissed.

Petty offenses can also sometimes be sealed from your criminal record. This can be important to non-citizens or those working in high-clearance professions, since some petty offenses are deportable or involve “crimes of moral turpitude.” Be sure to discuss the immigration consequences with an experienced attorney before you take a plea to a petty offense.


Misdemeanors are the middle tier of criminal charges in Colorado. They include charges punishable up to 18 months in jail (or 24 months for crimes of violence). They are broken up into three categories:

  • Regular misdemeanors (including forgery, disorderly conduct, and domestic violence, for example)
  • Drug misdemeanors
  • Traffic misdemeanors

Within each category, misdemeanor charges are broken up into classes based on their maximum penalty. Regular misdemeanors can be Class 1, Class 2, Class 3, or unclassified with penalties set in their own statute. Traffic misdemeanors can be Class 1, Class 2, or unclassified as well. Drug misdemeanors generally have lower penalties than their regular counterparts, and are divided between DM1 and DM2 classes. Many drug convictions result in fines or probation, rather than jail time.

Misdemeanor sentences can also be increased because of the circumstances involved in the crime. These are sometimes called extraordinary risk misdemeanors or crimes of violence. When a misdemeanor is charged as an extraordinary risk, it increases the maximum possible penalty by up to 6 months.

Earlier this year, the Colorado legislature modified the maximum penalty for Class 2 misdemeanors from 365 days to 364 days. That may not seem like a big deal, but means that immigrants and military members may be able to avoid some collateral consequences of a conviction under the new law if they enter a plea to an M2 charge.


Felony charges are reserved for more serious crimes, which are punishable with time in prison. There are six classes of felonies:

  • Class 1 felonies (such as first degree murder) have a maximum penalty of life imprisonment or the death penalty
  • Class 2 felonies (such as sexual assault) have a maximum penalty of 8-24 years in prison and a $5,000 to $1,000,000 fine.
  • Class 3 felonies (such as vehicular homicide) have a maximum penalty of 4-12 years in prison and a $3,000 to $750,000 fine.
  • Class 4 felonies (such as DUI-related manslaughter) have a maximum penalty of 2-6 years in prison and a $2,000 to $500,000 fine.
  • Class 5 felonies (such as theft of property worth $5,000 to $20,000) have a maximum penalty of 1-3 years in prison and a $1,000 to $100,000 fine.
  • Class 6 felonies (such as criminal impersonation) have a maximum penalty of 1 year to 18 months in prison and a $1,000 to $1,000 fine.

Drug felonies have their own levels (DF1 – DF4) and are generally punished less severely than non-drug felonies of the same level.

Defending Against Colorado Criminal Charges

All these classifications are based on the maximum penalty allowed for the crime. But most criminal defendants don’t receive the maximum sentence. Each presumptive sentence range gives the judge discretion to make the final call on whether you will go to jail or prison, and for how long. That’s where your lawyer comes into play. In many cases, an experienced criminal defense attorney can negotiate with prosecutors or advocate on your behalf in front of the judge to get you:

  • Deferred prosecution (Diversion)
  • Deferred sentencing
  • Probation
  • Community corrections

Whether you have been charged with a petty offense, misdemeanor or felony, a criminal defense attorney can help you defend your case, and make the consequences as manageable as possible. Don’t face criminal charges alone. No matter which tier offense you have been charged with, Aviso Law is here to help.

At Aviso Law, LLC, our criminal defense attorneys have extensive experience within the Colorado court system. We are here to serve you and help reduce or even avoid the consequences of a misdemeanor or felony conviction. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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