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Felonies & Misdemeanors


A felony in Massachusetts is a crime that is punishable by a term of one year or more in the state prison or by death. In Massachusetts, each criminal statute includes the possible penalties for each individual felony. Felonies in Massachusetts range from murder—the most serious felony crime in the state—to rape, arson, assault, battery, drug trafficking, robbery, embezzlement, and food stamp trafficking.

In addition to any jail sentence, period of probation or fine that a conviction for a felony carries, an individual must also submit a DNA sample that is entered into a database maintained by the state. This database is used during any criminal investigation involving the discovery of DNA evidence.

Some specific examples of felonies and the possible penalties are as follows:

  • First degree murder – life in prison or the death penalty.
  • Manslaughter– up to 20 years in prison or a fine up to $1,000 and up to 2 ½ years in a house of corrections or jail.
  • Rape– up to life in prison.
  • Assault with a deadly weapon– up to 10 years in prison, up to 2 ½ years in a house of corrections, or a fine up to $5,000.
  • Breaking and entering during the day – up to 10 years in prison.
  • Larceny over $250 – up to 5 years in prison or a fine up to $25,000 and up to 2 years in jail.
  • Manufacture, distribution or dispensing of Class C controlled substance (narcotic pain medications) – up to 5 years in prison or up to 2 ½ years in a house of correction or jail or a fine between $500 and $5,000, or both.


In Massachusetts, all other crimes, other than those designated felonies, are categorized as misdemeanors. A person convicted of a misdemeanor in Massachusetts can be sentenced to more than one year of incarceration, depending on the crime, but a misdemeanor is a less serious crime than a felony. Some common misdemeanors include, drunk driving (OUI/DUI/DWI), larceny crimes, assault, assault and battery, hazing, criminal harassment, operating an unlicensed child care program, or drug possession.

A conviction for a misdemeanor crime in Massachusetts can become part of your permanent criminal record. If you are convicted later of another crime, the court can consider your prior conviction and impose a harsher sentence in the new case. A conviction for even a minor crime can hurt you when you are looking for a job, applying to rent a house or apartment, or applying for a professional license. A person convicted of misdemeanor possession of an illegal substance – even a tiny amount for personal use only – can be barred from ever receiving federal financial aid for students.

Penalties for Misdemeanors in Massachusetts

The statute governing each misdemeanor in Massachusetts provides the sentence for the crime. Most misdemeanors are punishable by up to 2 ½ years in county jail or a house of corrections, or a fine up to $1,000, or both. For some crimes, the fines can be higher – as much as $5,000.