Misdemeanor crimes are a category of criminal offenses which are more serious than citations but less serious than felonies. Misdemeanors are less serious to moderately serious crimes associated with less serious punishments. States’ laws vary widely regarding which crimes are classified as misdemeanors.
In many states, the feature which distinguishes a misdemeanor from other crimes is that it is typically punishable by a sentence of less than one year, up to 364 days in a county jail facility. This is in contrast to a state prison facility typically reserved for felony punishment.
In some states, there is a category of crimes called wobblers. These crimes can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies depending upon the circumstances of the crime, such as the severity of the injury or the value of the damaged or stolen property.
States that do have wobbler categories include California, Connecticut, and Virginia. However, some states, such as Alabama, do not have wobbler classifications.
What are Some Common Examples of Misdemeanors?
As previously noted, the misdemeanor category may include many criminal offenses and violations. These may include:
- Traffic offenses, especially those which involve DUI or drunk driving;
- Assault and battery and other relatively minor offenses that involve bodily harm;
- Theft, larceny, and other similar crimes which involve property;
- Possession of a controlled substance and various other drug crimes;
- Perjury crimes;
- Obscenity and other related crimes; and
- Gun possession violations.
It is important to note that each state may list different crimes in its misdemeanor laws and statutes. If an individual is unsure of the classification of a particular offense in their area, they should consult with a criminal lawyer.
What are “Unclassified” Misdemeanors?
In general, the majority of state criminal laws classify misdemeanors into classes, which may include:
- Class A;
- Class B;
- Class C;
- Class 1;
- Class 2; and
- Class 3.
These classes are typically based on the seriousness of the offense and the corresponding punishment for each class. An unclassified misdemeanor is an offense that does not fit into the existing categories of misdemeanors.
In some states, there is a separate category called unclassified misdemeanors, which includes crimes that are too unique, involve new legal issues, or are not very serious in nature. Examples of unclassified misdemeanors may include:
- Minor gambling crimes;
- Less serious misdemeanors such as littering; and
- Various traffic offenses.
What is a Gross Misdemeanor?
A gross misdemeanor is a more serious criminal offense than a regular misdemeanor. A gross misdemeanor will typically result in more serious penalties than a regular misdemeanor.
The definition and classification of a gross misdemeanor depend on each state’s laws. Gross misdemeanors typically include offenses such as:
- Drunk driving;
- Aggravated assault, or more serious assault cases, such as assault with a deadly weapon; and
- Crimes involving repeated behavior, such as stalking.
Although a gross misdemeanor is more serious in nature, it is still typically considered less serious than a felony offense. A crime classified as a gross misdemeanor in one state may not be considered a gross misdemeanor in other states.
What is the Punishment for a Misdemeanor?
The criminal punishment for a misdemeanor offense may include a mix of jail time served in a county jail facility and not a state prison facility and criminal fines. A jail sentence typically carries a maximum of one year, often 364 days or less. The criminal fine is typically capped at $1,000 but can vary by state.
The consequences of a criminal misdemeanor charge may depend on the type of violation. For example, a defendant who receives a misdemeanor sentence for a graffiti offense may be required to perform community services and write a letter of apology to the affected property owner.
In contrast, the punishment for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) may involve mandatory DUI classes or traffic school, as well as other punishments. These requirements may be in addition to the jail sentence and fines imposed.
What are the Legal Penalties Associated with Each Misdemeanor Class?
The legal penalties for a misdemeanor offense typically depend on the classification of the misdemeanor. This is because, in most states, the classes of misdemeanors are associated with set penalties.
For example, a typical state penal code may suggest penalties for each misdemeanor class, such as:
- Class A or 1: Up to 1 year in county jail and fines of up to $2,500;
- Class B or 2: Up to 6 months in jail and fines of up to $1,000;
- Class C or 3: Up to 3 months in jail and fines of up to $500;
- Class D or 4: Up to 30 days in jail and fines of up to $250.
The titles of the classes may have different names, depending on the state. The punishment will depend on the state laws and the circumstances surrounding each case.
For example, repeat offenders will typically face harsher misdemeanor penalties than first-time offenders for the same offense. In certain cases, a state may list a specific punishment for a specific crime, even if that crime is classified in a set misdemeanor category.
Are There Any Defenses to Misdemeanors?
Yes, there may be criminal defenses to misdemeanor crimes which may apply in many situations. The type of defense which is raised will depend on the type of misdemeanor offense.
Common defenses which may be available for misdemeanors include:
- Lack of evidence;
- Coercion or duress; and
Crimes must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution cannot provide the elements of a crime or they do not have sufficient evidence to prove the crime, it may serve as a defense.
Intoxication may, in some cases, be a defense if the defendant was intoxicated when the crime occurred. This defense is often used in cases where the prosecution must prove that the defendant acted intentionally. This defense argues that intoxication affects the defendant’s ability to act intentionally.
If a defendant was forced to commit a crime under the threat of harm or injury, it might be a defense to certain misdemeanors. For example, if an individual is held at gunpoint and forced to assault another individual.
Cases that involve bodily injury, such as battery, may involve self-defense. For a defendant to be able to raise this defense, they must have only used a reasonable or proportionate amount of force. They cannot be the individual who initiated the use of force or the aggressor.
There may also be other defenses that can be raised. The availability of these defenses depends on several factors, including the laws of the state where the offense occurred.
Can I Also Be Liable in a Civil Lawsuit for a Misdemeanor Crime?
In many cases, individuals facing misdemeanor criminal charges may also face a civil lawsuit for damages. This commonly occurs in cases where a victim is seeking additional compensation for losses caused by the offense.
In many cases, if a defendant was found guilty of the offense in criminal court or entered a no-contest plea, they will most likely be found liable in civil court. This is because the standard of proof is higher in criminal court than in civil court.
Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with a Misdemeanor Charge?
Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of a criminal lawyer if you are facing misdemeanor charges. Although these may be less serious than other charges, misdemeanor charges can still be complex and seriously impact your life.
Your attorney can review your charges and the facts of your case, advise you whether any defenses are available, and represent you during court appearances.