In most jurisdictions, misdemeanor charges are defined as any charge resulting in a sentence of less than one year. Misdemeanor definitions can vary by region, and many states include different classes of misdemeanors, such as a Class 1 or A, 2 or B, and so forth.
In addition, misdemeanors are often classified according to the seriousness of the crime. This can be determined by analyzing the severity of damage or injury caused by the crime. For reference, Class A misdemeanors are usually reserved for the most serious types of crimes that still fall below those that would qualify as a felony.
Depending on the jurisdiction, some common examples of a Class A misdemeanor may include vandalism, prostitution, and perjury. A sentence for a class A misdemeanor may result in up to twelve months of imprisonment and large fines.
In contrast, Class D misdemeanors involve the least serious of misdemeanor crimes, however, most states stop classifying misdemeanors (i.e., unclassified misdemeanor) at Class C.
A Class C misdemeanor may entail criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, or certain types of assault. These sorts of misdemeanors usually only involve monetary fines, but jail time may be included for repeat offenders.
Misdemeanors can also result in criminal fines. Some examples of misdemeanors that may involve a fine are simple theft, DUI crimes, burglary, and resisting arrest.
It is important to remember that each state has its own classification system for misdemeanor crimes. As such, classifications, crimes, and consequences will vary accordingly. Therefore, if you are facing a misdemeanor charge, you should contact a criminal defense attorney who is located in your area.
Unlike misdemeanors, felonies will often result in a sentence of greater than one year. Some of the crimes listed under felonies may appear to be similar to those found under the misdemeanor classifications, however, they usually entail greater property loss and damage, or more serious bodily harm.
For example, an assault causing bodily injury may be a Class A misdemeanor. If the bodily injury that was caused involves a death, then the misdemeanor will most likely be elevated to a felony charge (e.g., murder or homicide).
Also, certain “aggravating factors” can turn a misdemeanor crime into a felony charge. Factors that may do so include the use of a deadly weapon; repeat offenses; defrauding or impersonating a government official; and committing assault or battery on a police officer or young child.
Finally, while misdemeanor charges remain on a person’s record, they may be subject to expungement (or record clearing) after a certain amount of time has passed and they are much easier to have cleared than felony charges.
A good example of the difference between felonies and misdemeanors involves the crime of theft. In most instances, a simple theft crime (such as shoplifting) will result in misdemeanor charges. In some of those cases, only a small criminal fine will apply. This is especially true if the crime is one for a very minor theft.
Theft for a large amount of money, however, may result in grand theft charges. Grand theft or grand larceny charges are often prosecuted as felonies and are defined as crimes involving property valued at over $500. As discussed above, classifications (even for felonies) will vary by state. Thus, the amount may be higher or lower depending on the laws of the jurisdiction.
Depending on the type of misdemeanor, certain defenses may apply. Some common defenses to misdemeanors include:
- Involuntary Intoxication: If a person is forced to drink alcohol or take drugs, or does so unknowingly, then it may be a defense to a misdemeanor charge;
- Coercion or Duress: If a person was forced to commit a crime due to a threat of harm or injury against them, then it can serve as a defense to some misdemeanors;
- Lack of Evidence: If the prosecution cannot prove the elements of a crime, or if they lack sufficient evidence for proof, then it may be a defense to the crime; and
- Self-Defense: Many cases regarding bodily injury, such as battery, often involve self-defense. In order to raise self-defense, the defendant usually must only use a reasonable or proportional amount of force. In other words, they can’t be the one who initiated the use of force.
The definitions for misdemeanor charges can often cause confusion. Since classifications vary by state, the application of misdemeanor laws can sometimes change from case to case. Therefore, if you are facing misdemeanor charges, it may be in your best interest to hire a local criminal defense attorney.
A qualified criminal defense attorney will be able to explain how the misdemeanor statutes in your area may affect your case, can determine whether there are any misdemeanor defenses available for your case, and can guide you through the overall process.