The difference between misdemeanors and felonies is that misdemeanors are considered less serious crimes and felonies are considered more serious crimes. This relative difference in seriousness is reflected in the potential punishment. There are other differences as well. There are also two other types of offenses: gross misdemeanors and "wobblers." Read below.
In Nevada, a misdemeanor is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
But if you are convicted of a misdemeanor, the judge can also order you do any number of other things before closing your case. This might include community service or counseling, or staying away from a particular person or business.
Misdemeanors can be charged in municipal courts (e.g. Las Vegas Municipal Court) or justice courts (e.g. Clark County Justice Court, Las Vegas Township). Criminal charges in municipal courts are prosecuted by the "city attorney" (e.g. the Las Vegas City Attorney) whereas charges in justice courts are prosecuted by the Clark County District Attorney. Whether you are charged in municipal court or justice court for a misdemeanor offense depends upon whether the alleged offense occurred within or outside city limits.
You are not entitled to a trial by jury in a misdemeanor case. That means that if you go to trial in justice court or municipal court on a misdemeanor charge, a judge will decide whether or not you are guilty and then impose sentence.
There is no probation for misdemeanors. However, if convicted of a misdemeanor, you will generally be ordered by the judge to "stay out of trouble" for either a specified period of time or until the case is closed. This means that if you get arrested on new charges, you could be in trouble on the old case (as well as the new case).
Gross misdemeanors are somewhere in between felonies and regular misdemeanors. A gross misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum of one year in Clark County Detention Center and a $2,000 fine.
Many gross misdemeanor convictions do not result in jail sentences. If you are convicted of a gross misdemeanor, the judge can suspend the sentence and place you on probation. For a gross misdemeanor, the probationary period can be up to 3 years. Additionally, for a gross misdemeanor, probation mat be formal or informal.
Gross misdemeanors are prosecuted by the Clark County District Attorney. A gross misdemeanor charge starts when the DA files charges in one of the various townships throughout Clark County (e.g., Las Vegas Township, Henderson Township, North Las Vegas Township).
Ordinarily, you are entitled to a preliminary hearing for a gross misdemeanor charge. At a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor must present witnesses and evidence. If the Justice Court Judge (called a Justice of the Peace) finds that enough evidence was presented, then the case is "bound over" for trial in Clark County District Court. It is also possible to negotiate the case in Justice Court. In District Court, if the case is negotiated and a plea deal is reached, then the case will proceed to sentencing. If the case is not negotiated, the case will proceed to trial by jury.
Felonies are crimes that are punishable by a minimum of one year in Nevada state prison. There are different categories of felonies in Nevada, from category A to category E. Category A felonies are the most serious, and include murder, first degree kidnapping, and sexual assault. Prison sentences for category A felonies vary by statute, but can include life imprisonment. Category B felonies include robbery, burglary, and home invasion, and are punishable by 1 to 20 years in prison. Category C felonies are punishable by 1 to 6 years in prison. Category D felonies are 1 to 4 years in prison. Category E felonies are also 1 to 4 years in prison, but are mandatory probation unless the defendant has certain priors.
If an individual is sentenced to prison in Nevada, that sentence must have a minimum and a maximum term, and the bottom number cannot exceed 40 percent of the top number. When the individual serves the minimum term, he becomes eligible for release from prison under a grant of parole. Here is an example. If you are convicted of burglary, a category B felony punishable by 1 to 10 years, the judge may choose to sentence you to a prison term of 2 to 5 years. Notice that 2 years, the minimum, does not exceed 40 percent of the top number, 5 years. Once you serve 2 years in prison, minus "good time credit," you would become eligible for parole.
Most felonies are probationable, meaning that the judge has discretion to suspend any prison sentence and place the defendant on a period of probation. Probation for felonies can be indeterminate or fixed. Fixed term probation lasts for a particular time period, no more, no less (e.g., a fixed term of 3 years) whereas an indeterminate term is one that may be less, but not more, than a particular time period (e.g., probation not to exceed 3 years).
Felonies are prosecuted by the Clark County District Attorney, and move forward procedurally the same as gross misdemeanors, starting in Justice Court and ending up in District Court.
A "wobbler" is a crime that can be treated as either a gross misdemeanor or a felony at the sentencing hearing, at the judge's discretion. Although the term "wobbler" is not used in the Nevada Revised Statutes, the statute applicable to "wobblers" is NRS 193.330. According to this statute, offenses that are attempts to commit category C, D, and E felonies, may be treated as a felonies or gross misdemeanors.
So for instance, the crime of battery causing substantial bodily harm is a category C felony. Attempt to commit battery causing substantial bodily harm (i.e. trying to cause substantial bodily harm but filing to do so) is a "wobbler," punishable as either a category D felony or a gross misdemeanor.