According to the US federal criminal code, crimes are divided into two categories: felony crimes, and misdemeanor crimes. Misdemeanor crimes are criminal offenses that are considered to be less serious than a felony crime, but more serious than a simple citation. Most states punish misdemeanor crimes with a jail sentence of up to one year, and a capped fine generally not to exceed $2,500. Some states further classify misdemeanor charges according to how serious the crime is, placing them into different types of classes.
The difference between misdemeanor classes varies from state to state, as well as the range of punishments for each class. In general, there are four classifications of misdemeanor crimes, which are usually designated either numerically or alphabetically. Some states designate a Class A misdemeanor as the most serious misdemeanor class, with a Class D being the least serious. Typically, misdemeanor classes may be broken down as follows:
- Class 1 or Class A: Punishable by a fine up to $2,500, and/or up to one year in a county jail facility (not to be served in a prison facility);
- Class 2 or Class B: Punishable by a fine up to $1,000, and/or up to six months in a county jail facility;
- Class 3 or Class C: Punishable by a fine up to $500, and/or up to three months in a county jail facility; and
- Class 4 or Class D: Punishable by a fine up to $250, and/or up to thirty days in a county jail facility.
What Are Some Examples of Misdemeanor Charges?
There are several examples of crimes that could be considered a misdemeanor charge. Additionally, some misdemeanor charges may be elevated to a felony charge, depending on the seriousness of the crime. Further, state criminal statutes may differ on what constitutes a misdemeanor charge, with every state classifying crimes in a different way.
The following crimes are generally considered to be misdemeanor charges:
- Simple Assault or Battery: Simple assault refers to the act of placing someone to be in fear of immediate danger, or some form of unwanted touching to follow that typically follows threatening conduct. Importantly, the victim does not need to have been physically touched in order for an assault to occur. Simple assault is considered to be a misdemeanor crime in most jurisdictions;
- Harboring a Runaway Child: In some states, such as Texas, harboring a runaway child is considered to be a misdemeanor crime because it makes a person criminally negligent. In order to convict a person for the crime of harboring a runaway child, the runaway must be under the age of eighteen, and the child must have voluntarily left their home without the consent of their parent or guardian. In Texas specifically, and possibly in other states, this misdemeanor is considered to be a Class A;
- Criminal Mischief: Criminal mischief can refer to several different crimes, but almost always involves property. An example of this would be deliberately damaging the property that belongs to someone else. A person may be guilty of criminal mischief if they damage, deface, alter, or destroy another’s property without their consent. Criminal mischief is different from tampering; and
- Theft: Not every theft crime is a misdemeanor. In fact, some theft crimes are actually felony crimes. Whether or not a theft crime is a misdemeanor or not depends on the circumstances of the crime as well as the value of the property that was stolen. Additionally, the definition of theft tends to vary from state to state. However, theft as a misdemeanor crime is generally theft of less than $500. Related to theft, receiving stolen property in another state valued at $1,500 or less is a misdemeanor, as is bringing stolen property worth less than $1,500 across state lines.
Other examples of common misdemeanor charges include:
- Reckless conduct causing harm to or endangering the bodily state of another person;
- Firing a gun in public;
- Interfering with custody;
- Cyber bullying;
- Obstructing a public officer;
- Criminal coercion;
- Public drunkenness; and
- White collar crimes such as computer or internet fraud, bankruptcy fraud, bribery, etc.
In addition to misdemeanor and felony charges, some states acknowledge the existence of “wobbler” crimes. These are crimes that “wobble” the line between a misdemeanor and a felony, and charging and sentencing are heavily influenced by the specifics of the case. Wobblers exist in order to ensure that the criminal justice system operates with some flexibility.
Can a Misdemeanor Charge Be Expunged?
Expungement refers to a court order process in a person’s criminal record of an arrest or criminal conviction is sealed. Essentially, it is as if the crime never happened. After being granted an expungement a defendant may legally claim that they were never charged with that specific crime. This gives the defendant a clean record and enables them to find employment, housing, etc. However, the expunged crime may still be visible to law enforcement personnel.
Misdemeanor expungement is generally reserved for those who have completed their criminal sentencing, and have maintained a good record ever since. It is also common for first-time offenders and juvenile offenders. Additionally, it is generally required that a specific waiting period pass after the last conviction before the misdemeanor may be expunged. This can be anywhere from five to ten years. Not all crimes may be expunged.
Do I Need an Attorney for Misdemeanor Charges?
If you are being charged with a misdemeanor crime, you will want to consult with a well qualified and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand what your state specifically considers to be a misdemeanor crime. Additionally, they can help determine if you are eligible for any defenses, as well as represent you in court as needed.