Gross Misdemeanor Laws: Definition, Examples, Charges and Penalties

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 What is a Gross Misdemeanor?

There are two main categories of criminal offenses: misdemeanors and felonies. Felonies are the more serious category and can carry penalties of a year or more in prison and/or hefty fines. Misdemeanors are considered the less serious offenses and usually carry penalties of jail time up to one year and lesser fines.

There are different types of misdemeanors, regular misdemeanors and more serious gross misdemeanors. Gross misdemeanors carry harsher penalties if convicted. They are generally more serious than regular misdemeanors.

There is not one specific definition of a gross misdemeanor. Each state’s criminal code defines what crimes are considered gross misdemeanor. A crime that is considered a gross misdemeanor in one state may not be considered as such in another state.

There are certain circumstances that separate gross misdemeanor charges from regular misdemeanor charges. In many cases, gross misdemeanors involve the defendant engaging in reckless behavior, which means the defendant knew or should have known the conduct they engaged in would cause harm to another individual.

Not every gross misdemeanor involves reckless conduct. Some include acts that are more serious than regular misdemeanors but less serious than felonies. An example of this is petty theft, which is theft of property with a low value. This crime may be considered between a regular misdemeanor and a felony in seriousness.

What are Examples of Gross Misdemeanors?

Examples of gross misdemeanor crimes may include, but are not limited to:

Driving under the influence is considered more serious than a regular misdemeanor. This is because the law regards that act as threatening public safety.

Aggravated assault contains the same elements as simple assault, which is intentional conduct that causes another individual to fear imminent harmful and/or offensive touching. In addition to those elements, aggravated assault includes physical actions that cause serious bodily harm. This may include a deadly weapon, such as a knife or gun. It may also include assault of a vulnerable victim, such as a child.

Repeated stalking is more serious than stalking. Stalking is defined as intentional, unwelcome, and harassing and/or annoying behaviors directed at another individual. This behavior must put the victim in actual and reasonable fear for their safety. Repeated stalking may consist of:

  • Repeated unwanted and/or threatening messages or communications;
  • Repeated following and/or menacing;
  • Repeated vandalism; and/or
  • Any other repeated unwanted behaviors.

Do all States Define Crimes as Gross Misdemeanors?

Not every state divides crimes into regular misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor categories. Some states identify misdemeanors by class. Classes of misdemeanors may be assigned a letter, such as A-E. In general, Class A signifies the most serious misdemeanor and decreases in seriousness by letter.

Some states also have laws that contain unclassified misdemeanors. These are a combination of more serious and less serious misdemeanors. More serious unclassified misdemeanors include aggravated unlicensed driving and reckless driving. These types of crimes can be the equivalent of a gross misdemeanor in another state that uses that classification system or a Class A misdemeanor in a state that uses that classification system.

Less serious unclassified misdemeanors may include littering or minor gambling. These types of offenses may be the equivalent of a regular misdemeanor in another state or a misdemeanor below the Class A in a state that uses that classification system.

Do All Gross Misdemeanors Show On Your Criminal Record?

A criminal record is documentation of an individual’s previous convictions and/or charges. When an individual has a prior conviction for a crime, it is usually said they have a criminal record. Having a criminal record can affect an individual in many ways, including whether or not they can obtain certain employment.

Criminal records are maintained in a database in local and county court systems in most states. These records are generally public and may be accessed by any individual. In certain cases, criminal records may be sealed or expunged.

A gross misdemeanor conviction will appear on an individual’s criminal record, just like any other criminal conviction. A gross misdemeanor conviction will remain on an individual’s criminal record for life unless expunged. Gross misdemeanor convictions will also appear on background checks, such as those done for employment applications.

It is possible to have a gross misdemeanor expunged from an individual’s criminal record. Expungement will remove the conviction from the individual’s criminal record so it will not appear on background checks and the like.

The rules and requirements for expungement will vary by state. It may also be known by other terms, such as record sealing. There are some common general requirements, including:

  • Submitting a specific request to expunge a record;
  • Satisfying any conditions required for expungement; and/or
  • Being outside of the waiting period.

An expungement is not automatically granted by a court and usually requires a hearing to determine an individual’s eligibility. They may be required to satisfy conditions such as completing sentences and/or paying fines. In some cases, individuals must wait a specific period of time, such as 5-10 years, before a conviction can be expunged.

It is always helpful to have the assistance of an attorney when petitioning a court for expungement.

What is the Punishment for a Gross or Serious Misdemeanor?

Gross misdemeanors and serious misdemeanors usually carry the following penalties if convicted:

  • Jail time of up to one year;
  • Fines; and/or
  • Restitution.

More serious misdemeanors will carry longer jail sentences than less serious misdemeanors. Additionally, more serious misdemeanors will carry larger fines than less serious misdemeanors. A defendant may also be ordered to pay restitution, which is monetary compensation paid to the victim.

Gross misdemeanor penalties may include one or all of those mentioned above. The punishment will vary by state.

Are there any Defenses to Gross Misdemeanors?

Yes, defenses may be available to gross misdemeanor charges. In a criminal case, a defendant is entitled to due process rights, including a presumption of innocence. Due process requires the prosecution to prove each element of their charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

Even if the prosecution is able to prove each element, the defendant may present defenses to the charges. Defenses may include legitimate excuses or justifications for the behavior considered criminal. Successful defenses may result in a reduction of the penalties imposed and/or a finding of not guilty.

There are common defenses to gross misdemeanors, including:

Do I Need a Criminal Defense Attorney to Help with Gross Misdemeanor Charges?

Yes, if you are facing gross misdemeanor charges, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal lawyer. A misdemeanor conviction may have a serious impact on your life, including jail time. An attorney can review your case, determine if any defenses are available, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary.

In some cases, an attorney may be able to negotiate a lesser charge and/or a plea bargain. A plea bargain generally includes either dropping certain charges or reducing charges in exchange for a defendant’s guilty plea. It is important to note that plea bargains are not always a good deal and you should always consult with an attorney prior to agreeing to a plea bargain.


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