There are different types of offenses that carry penalties determined by the classification of the offense under criminal law. The different types of offenses include felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions. Infractions are the least serious crimes and are typically punished with a warning or citation. Examples include speeding and parking tickets.
Felonies are the most serious crimes and have varying degrees that are generally punishable by significant prison time. Misdemeanors fall somewhere between felonies and infractions and can be punishable by fines and some jail time, usually no more than a year. Some common examples of misdemeanors include petty theft, public intoxication and trespassing.
Like felonies, misdemeanor classes are arranged according to the degree of severity of the offense. The degrees of misdemeanors vary across states, but there are generally four classifications and they are usually designated numerically or alphabetically.
For example, in some states, a class A misdemeanors are the most serious misdemeanor class, whereas a class D is the least serious. The difference is that a class A misdemeanor will generally result in some jail time while a class D offense may result in a fine instead. Essentially, the more serious the subcategory of misdemeanor offense, the longer and more the severe the penalty will be.
Further still, there are some misdemeanors that are not categorized under any class and are referred to as unclassified misdemeanors or non-classified misdemeanors. They are so named because they do not neatly fit under any other category of misdemeanor. In some states they may be named class U misdemeanors. Some examples may include littering or minor gambling offenses.
There are offenses that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. These types of offenses are called “wobbler offenses”. Some states may designate an offense as a wobbler depending on state penal codes.
An example of this is where there is a criminal statute that specifically classifies the crime as such or because there are certain elements of the crime that turn it into a wobbler. If the prosecutor charges the offender with a wobbler offense as a felony, the court may decide to designate a misdemeanor penalty, depending on the facts of that case.
Whether designated alphabetically or numerically, the degrees of misdemeanors can carry penalties ranging from fines to jail time. A penal code that outlines the different penalties may look something like this:
- Class 1 or A: Fines of up to $2,500, and/or up to one year in jail;
- Class 2 or B: Fines up to $1,000, and/or up to six months in jail;
- Class 3 or C: Fines up to $500 and/or a jail sentence of up to 3 months; and
- Class 4 or D: Fines up to $250 and/or a jail sentence of up to 30 days.
Penalties are generally applied in a straightforward way as set forth by the criminal statute. However, penalties may be enhanced for repeat offenders or mitigated based on the specific facts of the case.
Whether you will be charged with a misdemeanor and a felony comes down to the specific facts of your case. As stated above, the main difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is the penalty. Both can result in jail time, but felonies result in longer incarceration and a felony offender will be incarcerated in prison instead of a local jail.
There are also non-legal, personal and professional consequences if you have been convicted of a misdemeanor, whether as a first-time offender or a repeat offender. For example, if you have ever filled out a college application, you will have been asked to disclose whether you have ever been convicted of a felony, infraction or misdemeanor.
Also, if you have ever filled out an employment application, you may have been asked about your criminal history. Even if you were not asked about your criminal history, your misdemeanor conviction can show up in a background check. Misdemeanor convictions will also show up if you are trying to rent an apartment and the landlord runs a background check.
If you have been charged with one misdemeanor and are facing a second charge, this also may factor in what penalty you will receive subsequently. Furthermore, if you are an immigrant applying for residency status, your misdemeanor conviction will impact your application.
Moreover, while states allow for some process of expungement of someone’s criminal record, even misdemeanors can impact whether the court will grant your petition for expungement.
Felonies impact important civil rights like voting or carrying a firearm. Under normal circumstances, misdemeanors do not usually deprive you of these rights. However, you should check with the laws of your specific state to determine whether your type of misdemeanor under federal or state law has impacted these civil rights.
Criminal law has serious legal and non-legal consequences,so it is in your best interests to consult with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as you are aware of any charges against you. Your attorney should be well-versed about the laws in your state, as well as any federal laws that may be applicable to the facts of your case.