What Is A Misdemeanor?

Quick Summary:

A misdemeanor is a type of criminal offense that is considered less serious than a felony. These offenses typically carry a punishment of up to one year in jail and/or a fine. For example, shoplifting merchandise worth under $500 can be considered a misdemeanor. Other examples of misdemeanors include petty theft, disorderly conduct, and simple assault.

In this article, I will continue to teach you about what a misdemeanor is and a few other commonly asked questions.

Misdemeanor vs Felony Differences

DefinitionLess serious criminal offenseMore serious criminal offense
PunishmentUp to one year in jail and/or fineLonger prison sentence and/or larger fine
ExamplesPetty theft, disorderly conduct, simple assaultMurder, rape, grand theft
ClassificationClass A, B, and CVaries by state
Impact on LifeCan affect the ability to find employment, housingMore severe impact on the ability to find employment, housing
Expungement/Sealing EligibilityDepends on the state lawsDepends on the state laws

Please note that the above chart is a general comparison of misdemeanors and felonies, and the specific laws and punishments can vary depending on the jurisdiction.

Different Classifications of Misdemeanors

Misdemeanors are typically classified into three categories: Class A, B, and C. The classification and the punishment associated with each vary by state laws, but in general:

  • Class A misdemeanors are considered the most serious and carry the harshest punishment, such as longer jail time and higher fines. Examples of Class A misdemeanors include assault, DUI, and drug possession.
  • Class B misdemeanors are considered less serious than Class A misdemeanors and carry a medium level of punishment, such as shorter jail time and moderate fines. Examples of Class B misdemeanors include disorderly conduct, petty theft, and simple battery.
  • Class C misdemeanors are considered the least serious and carry the lightest punishment, such as short jail time and smaller fines or no jail time and fines. Examples of Class C misdemeanors include traffic violations and minor drug offenses.

However, these classifications of misdemeanors may differ from one state to another and some states may not have any classification for misdemeanors at all.

Potential Consequences of a Misdemeanor Conviction

  1. Fines: This can range from a small amount for a minor infraction to a larger amount for a more serious offense.
  2. Probation: A period of supervision by a probation officer during which the person must comply with certain conditions, such as regular check-ins with the probation officer, community service, or attending counseling or treatment programs.
  3. Community service: Completing a set number of hours of unpaid work for a non-profit organization or government agency.
  4. Jail time (up to one year): Sentences may be served in a local or county jail, rather than a state or federal prison.
  5. Criminal record: Having a criminal record can have negative effects on a person’s life, such as difficulty finding employment or housing.
  6. Difficulty finding employment or housing: Some employers or landlords may be hesitant to hire or rent to someone with a criminal record, even if the conviction was for a minor offense.
  7. Loss of certain rights, such as the right to own a firearm: Depending on the specific misdemeanor conviction, it can result in losing the right to own a firearm, this can be a severe penalty for someone who is a gun owner or who works in a field that requires the use of firearms.

Can a Misdemeanor be Expunged or Sealed?

In some cases, it is possible for a misdemeanor conviction to be expunged or sealed. Expungement is the process of legally destroying, obliterating or striking out records or information in files, computers and other depositories relating to criminal charges. Sealing records, on the other hand, means that the record is still kept but it is kept separate and it’s not available for public view.

The eligibility criteria and the process of expunging or sealing a misdemeanor conviction can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific laws of the state. Generally speaking, some common factors that are taken into account include:

  • The type of misdemeanor conviction: Some offenses, such as those related to domestic violence or sex offenses, may not be eligible for expungement or sealing.
  • The length of time since the conviction: Some states require that a certain amount of time has passed since the conviction before the person can petition for expungement or sealing.
  • The person’s criminal history: A person with multiple convictions or a history of violent offenses may be less likely to be eligible for expungement or sealing.

It’s important to note that expungement and sealing are not automatic and usually require a petition to be filed and a court order to be granted. It’s also worth mentioning that even if a record is expunged or sealed, certain entities such as law enforcement, government agencies, and some employers will still have access to the records. To know more about the possibility of expunging or sealing a misdemeanor conviction in a specific case, it’s best to consult with a criminal defense attorney.

How does a Misdemeanor Charge Differ from a Summary Offense?

A misdemeanor and a summary offense are both types of criminal charges, but they differ in terms of the severity of the offense and the potential penalties.

A summary offense, also known as a summary conviction, is considered to be the least serious type of criminal charge. Summary offenses are usually punishable by fines or short-term imprisonment, usually less than 90 days, and generally do not result in a criminal record. Examples of summary offenses include minor traffic violations, disorderly conduct, and minor drug offenses.

In summary, misdemeanors are considered more serious than summary offenses and carry more severe penalties, including the possibility of serving time in jail and having a criminal record.

When to Seek An Attorney?

It’s generally a good idea to seek the advice of an attorney if you have been charged with a misdemeanor. An attorney can help you understand the charges against you, the potential penalties, and the legal process. They can also help you to build a defense and negotiate a plea bargain or represent you in court if your case goes to trial.

Here are some specific situations where it’s particularly important to seek the help of an attorney:

  1. If you are facing multiple charges: An attorney can help you to navigate the legal process and potentially negotiate a plea bargain that reduces the number of charges or the severity of the penalties.
  2. If you have a prior criminal record: Having a prior criminal record can make it more difficult to negotiate a favorable plea bargain and may also result in harsher penalties if convicted. An attorney can help you to understand the impact of your prior record and work to mitigate the consequences.
  3. If the charges against you are complex: Some misdemeanor charges, such as those related to drugs or fraud, can be complex and difficult to understand. An attorney can help you to understand the charges against you and build a defense.
  4. If you face immigration consequences: A misdemeanor conviction can have negative immigration consequences, and can lead to deportation, denied entry to the country, or even denial of citizenship. An attorney can help you to understand these potential consequences and work to avoid them.
  5. If you are facing a potential loss of rights: Certain misdemeanors such as domestic violence or firearms related can result in the loss of certain rights, such as the right to own a firearm. An attorney can help you to understand the potential consequences and work to avoid them.

It’s always best to consult with an attorney as soon as possible after being charged with a misdemeanor to ensure that you have the best possible defense and that your rights are protected.