The term misdemeanor refers to a category of criminal charges. Misdemeanor crimes are more serious than a citation, but are less serious than felony charges. Typically, misdemeanors are less serious to moderate crimes that are associated with less serious punishment.
A broad range of crimes are classified as misdemeanors, and criminal acts range from assault and battery to property crimes. Laws regarding what crimes are considered to be misdemeanors vary from state to state, and in some cases, felony charges may be reduced to misdemeanors.
As previously mentioned, misdemeanors typically involve minor damage to property, or minor injury to another person. Misdemeanor crimes are usually broadly categorized, including:
- Crimes Against a Person: This includes charges such as assault and battery, false imprisonment, or harassment. More serious injuries, or injuries caused by the use of a weapon, typically result in felony charges.
- Crimes Against Property: Crimes against property generally involve some sort of theft. This is the case with shoplifting or larceny charges.
- Crimes Against Public Safety or Public Order: Some examples of this type of misdemeanor crime include disorderly conduct, noise violations, open alcohol container violations, prostitution, and minor in possession of alcohol.
In most states, the defining factor of a misdemeanor is that it is usually punishable by a jail sentence of up to one year in a county jail facility, and/or a limited fine. Misdemeanor sentences are not to be served in a state prison facility, as this is generally reserved for felony charges.
Some states may recognize “wobblers,” or crimes that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. Wobblers were originally created to ensure that the justice system has some flexibility. However, only some crimes may ever be considered wobblers. Further, wobblers only apply to certain people, such as first time offenders or minors.
Other states have a category known as unclassified misdemeanors. These are crimes that do not fit into any other classification of misdemeanors because they are too unique or involve a new issue that has not yet been addressed by state law.
If a misdemeanor offense was not very serious in nature, it may also be considered unclassified. Some common examples of unclassified misdemeanors include minor gambling offenses, moderate offenses such as littering, and various traffic citations.
As mentioned above, the term misdemeanor can cover a wide variety of offenses. Some examples of the most common misdemeanor charges include:
- Traffic offenses, such as those involving DUI or drunk driving;
- Assault and battery, and other relatively minor offenses involving bodily harm;
- Theft, larceny, and other similar crimes involving property theft;
- Possession of a controlled substance;
- Various drug crimes;
- Perjury crimes;
- Obscenity and other related crimes; and
- Gun possession violations.
As previously mentioned, each state may have its own criteria regarding what crimes constitute a misdemeanor.
Gross misdemeanors are those that are more serious than a regular misdemeanor. These generally result in more serious penalties than an average misdemeanor, and typically involve crimes such as drunk driving, aggravated assault, and crimes involving repeated behavior such as stalking.
Although gross misdemeanors are considered to be more serious in nature, they are still considered to be less serious than a felony crime. Additionally, crimes that are classified as a gross misdemeanor in one state may not be considered a serious crime in another.
Classes of misdemeanors are generally associated with set penalties, in most cases. For example, a Class A misdemeanor could result in up to one year in county jail, and/or a fine of up to $2,500. In contrast, a Class D misdemeanor could result in up to thirty days in a county jail, and/or a fine of up to $250.
The legal penalties for misdemeanor crimes generally involve some sort of criminal fine, as well as a short period of time spent in jail. Misdemeanor sentences are usually limited to one year at most spent in a county jail, and there is a limit placed on how high the fee may be, typically capped at $1,000. Again, it is important to note that this can vary from state to state.
The consequences for a misdemeanor crime are often influenced by the exact type of violation committed. An example of this would be a misdemeanor graffiti sentence that requires the defendant to perform community cleanup in addition to any other potential penalties.
There are some defenses to misdemeanors and charges. Some of the most common include:
All available defenses will depend on the specifics of the circumstances, as well as individual state laws. Keep in mind that lack of evidence is not necessarily an active defense, compared to self-defense. Instead, lack of evidence is exactly that, not enough evidence to prove that the defendant did commit the misdemeanor.
If you are facing misdemeanor charges, it is in your best interests to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can help you understand your state’s laws regarding misdemeanor classification and penalties, as well as determine if there are any defenses available to your specific circumstances. The attorney will also represent you in court as needed.