The Difference Between Misdemeanors and Felonies in Tennessee Law

In Tennessee, the legal system categorizes criminal offenses into two primary classifications: misdemeanors and felonies. While both types of offenses can result in criminal charges and penalties, there are significant differences between the two in terms of severity, potential consequences, and legal procedures. Understanding these distinctions is essential for individuals facing criminal charges and seeking to navigate the legal process effectively.


Misdemeanors are less serious offenses compared to felonies and typically carry lighter penalties. In Tennessee, misdemeanors are divided into three classes: Class A, Class B, and Class C. The severity of the offense determines its classification, with Class A misdemeanors being the most serious and Class C misdemeanors being the least serious.

Common examples of misdemeanors in Tennessee include:

  • Simple assault
  • Theft (under a certain dollar amount)
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia
  • Disorderly conduct
  • DUI (for a first or second offense)

Penalties for misdemeanors in Tennessee can include fines, probation, community service, and up to one year in county jail, depending on the classification of the offense. While misdemeanor convictions can have consequences such as a criminal record, they generally carry less severe long-term consequences compared to felonies.


Felonies are the most serious category of criminal offenses and carry harsher penalties than misdemeanors. In Tennessee, felonies are classified into several categories, including Class A, Class B, Class C, Class D, and Class E felonies, with Class A being the most serious.

Examples of felony offenses in Tennessee include:

  • Aggravated assault
  • Burglary
  • Robbery
  • Drug trafficking
  • Homicide
  • Certain DUI offenses (e.g., DUI resulting in serious injury or death)

Penalties for felonies in Tennessee vary depending on the classification of the offense and can include substantial fines, lengthy prison sentences (typically more than one year), and collateral consequences such as loss of voting rights and firearms restrictions. Felony convictions can have significant long-term implications, impacting employment opportunities, housing eligibility, and personal freedoms.

Legal Procedures

The legal procedures for misdemeanor and felony cases in Tennessee also differ. Felony cases typically involve more complex legal proceedings, including grand jury indictments, pretrial hearings, and jury trials. Misdemeanor cases, on the other hand, may proceed more swiftly and may be resolved through plea negotiations or bench trials before a judge.

Seeking Legal Representation

Regardless of whether you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges in Tennessee, obtaining experienced legal representation is crucial. A skilled criminal defense attorney can assess the circumstances of your case, explain your rights and options, and advocate for your best interests throughout the legal process.


Understanding the differences between misdemeanors and felonies in Tennessee law is essential for individuals navigating the criminal justice system. By comprehending the severity of the charges, potential consequences, and legal procedures associated with each classification, individuals can make informed decisions and seek appropriate legal representation to protect their rights and interests.