Classes of Misdemeanors

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What is a Misdemeanor?

In criminal law, a misdemeanor is a lesser type of crime that is usually punished by a monetary fine and/or a short jail sentence of less than one year. A person who is convicted of a misdemeanor is formally called a “misdemeanant”. 

Common examples of misdemeanors include petty theft offenses, public intoxication, trespassing, and simple assault.

What Are the Different Classes of Misdemeanor Offenses?

Most states classify misdemeanors into four of five subcategories, according to the degree of severity of the offense. 

For example, misdemeanors are usually classified as Class 1 through 4 or Class A through D. Class 1 or Class A is usually the most serious type of offense and is associated with greater penalties. Each subsequent class is less severe, therefore a Class 4 or Class D misdemeanor will usually only result in a small fine.

Misdemeanor offenses that are not categorized under any particular class are called “unclassified misdemeanors.” These are usually dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and may result in punishments according to the judge’s discretion.

Some states also have a category of offenses called “minor misdemeanors.” These are usually offenses that do not result in jail time and only result in a very small monetary fee. Examples of minor misdemeanors include speeding violations and other minor citations. 

What Are the Legal Penalties Associated With Each Misdemeanor Class?

State laws will vary widely regarding how they assign punishments for each misdemeanor class. As an example, punishments for misdemeanors will generally look like the following:

Note that many states do not assign jail time for Class 4 or even Class 3 misdemeanors. Also, repeat offenses can result in higher penalties for the same type of misdemeanor.

What’s the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

The main difference between misdemeanors and felonies is the type of penalty that is associated with each. Misdemeanors only result in jail sentences for a maximum of one year. The sentence for a misdemeanor will usually be served in a local or county jail.

On the other hand, a felony charge may result in imprisonment for greater than one year. The sentence will be served in a prison facility rather than a county jail. This is the main distinction in the consideration of what is a felony versus a misdemeanor. 

In addition, felonies are much more difficult to expunge (delete from one’s criminal record) and will often stay on the criminal record permanently. Also, some felony convictions result in the loss of civil rights, such as the right to own a firearm or the right to vote. However, being convicted of a misdemeanor will usually not result in the loss of civil rights.

Depending on the type of crime and the facts involved in the case, an offense can sometimes be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony. This is common for crimes involving some form of homicide. In such cases, it is usually up to the judge whether they classify the offense as misdemeanor or a felony.  

Thus, it is sometimes possible for a felony charge to be reduced to a misdemeanor charge. It is also possible for a misdemeanor charge to be “elevated” to the status of a felony.      

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Misdemeanor Offense?

If you are facing misdemeanor criminal charges, you should speak with a criminal defense lawyer immediately. Your attorney can represent you in court and provide you valuable with legal advice. Also, an experienced attorney may be able to argue for a less severe penalty. If you are facing felony chares, it may be possible for your lawyer to get your charges reduced to a misdemeanor.

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Last Modified: 10-10-2013 02:21 PM PDT

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