The Difference Between a Civil Offense, Misdemeanor, and Felony

Civil Offense

Before seeking representation for any defense case, it’s important to understand the legal definitions and differences between the violation of civil matters and criminal violations.

To begin with, a violation of contract law, personal injury, or administrative matters and various other matters that do not involve being sent to jail. If a person is found in violation of certain civil offenses the remedy generaly requires the payment of damages. With the court orderring the defendant to produce records, refrain from the activities that are the basis of the lawsuit or claim, or performing a contract.

Contempt Of Court is another example that falls in the category of civil offense. These violations generally deal with family matters such as failure to pay child support or alimony. The individual prosecuting can move for contempt sanctions in which attorney fees are directed to the accused.

In extreme cases, the court can hold the non-paying party in contempt to avoid jail time. The important thing to remember here, is that these charges arise from civil or administrative disputes rather than criminal violations.


Less serious than a felony but more serious than a civil dispute, a misdemeanor is defined as a minor criminal act generally punished by jail time and/or monetary fines. A common example of a misdemeanor is retail theft. Depending on the severity of the crime, previous infractions, or monetary value of the item stolen in this example, a misdemeanor can result in jail time and subsequent loss of employment. However, this type of conviction is still not defined as a “dangerous” criminal offense, and is therefore easier to defend and obtain a favorable result in court with proper representation.


A felony is deemed the most serious crime a person can commit. Generally speaking, these acts involve a “malicious intent to harm” and include crimes such as murder, rape, burglary, kidnapping, arson, or distribution of certain types of drugs. Depending on the severity of the crime and the state’s individual definition of “felony,” such violations are punishable by jail time or prison sentences, supervised probation and significant court fines and costs. Maryland defines felony as, “a crime punishable by death, imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for more than 12 months.” Classes of felonies include:

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Because the punishments for felonies are so severe, a strict observance of a criminal procedure (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_procedure) is is requered in order to protect the defendant’s rights. The assistance of experienced legal counsel can help you ensure that you best understand your defenses and are able to seek an outcome that minimizes your risk and punishment.

Call the experienced criminal deffence attorney C. Gregory Coburn in Ocean City, MD today to receive the legal counsel and representation you need.