What Are Misdemeanor Charges?

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 What are Misdemeanor Charges?

Misdemeanor charges encompass a variety of criminal offenses that carry penalties such as relatively modest fines and a maximum of twelve months in a jail facility. These charges are considered less severe than felonies but carry more weight than simple citations. Each state has its own classification system for misdemeanors, which can result in variations in their definitions.

For example, the most severe type of misdemeanor is usually classified as a Class A or 1 misdemeanor. Crimes falling under this category may include perjury, assault resulting in bodily injury, or unlawful possession of a weapon.

A common feature across most misdemeanor definitions is that the punishment generally does not exceed one year in a jail facility.

Examples of offenses typically classified as misdemeanors include:

  • Petty theft;
  • Evading police;
  • Vandalism;
  • Cyberbullying;
  • Burglary;
  • Criminal mischief;
  • Possession of a controlled substance;
  • Interference with child custody; and
  • Simple battery or assault.

Misdemeanor charges can remain on a person’s record, but after a certain period, it may be possible to have them removed or expunged. It is worth noting that expunging a misdemeanor charge is generally easier than expunging a felony charge.

The specific crimes and classifications for misdemeanor charges can differ by state. Therefore, if you face misdemeanor charges, it is advisable to seek the guidance of a local criminal defense attorney.

What are Non-Jailable Offenses?

Certain misdemeanor charges are classified as “non-jailable offenses,” meaning that if a person is found guilty of such a crime, they will not receive a jail sentence. Instead, alternative sentencing options are typically imposed, such as fines, probation, mandatory community service, or rehabilitation programs.

Although non-jailable offenses are still categorized as misdemeanors, they are more akin to simple citations or traffic violations. Some common examples of non-jailable offenses include:

  • Jaywalking;
  • Trespassing;
  • Disorderly conduct;
  • Disturbing the peace; or
  • Possession of small amounts of drugs


Jaywalking refers to the act of crossing a street in an unsafe or prohibited manner, such as walking across the road outside of a designated crosswalk or pedestrian crossing area. This non-jailable offense can pose a danger to both the pedestrian and the drivers, who may need to suddenly brake or swerve to avoid a collision. While jaywalking is typically punished with a small fine, the exact amount depends on the jurisdiction.


Trespassing happens when an individual enters another person’s property without permission or lawful authority. This can include entering private land, buildings, or restricted areas, such as construction sites, without the owner’s consent.

Although trespassing is generally considered a non-jailable offense, punishments can range from warnings and fines to community service, depending on the circumstances and jurisdiction.

Disorderly Conduct

Disorderly conduct is a broad term that covers actions that disrupt public order or disturb the peace.

Examples of disorderly conduct may include public intoxication, fighting or brawling in public spaces, using offensive language or gestures, or creating excessive noise that disturbs others.

Penalties for disorderly conduct typically include fines, community service, or mandatory attendance at anger management or alcohol education programs, depending on the severity of the offense and the jurisdiction.

Disturbing the Peace

Disturbing the peace is another broad category of offenses that involve actions that disrupt public tranquility or the well-being of others. Examples of behavior that may be considered disturbing the peace include:

  • Playing loud music late at night.
  • Engaging in excessively noisy construction activities.
  • Using a bullhorn to shout in a residential area.

The specific penalties for disturbing the peace depend on the jurisdiction but often include fines, community service, or participation in conflict resolution programs.

Possession of Small Amounts of Drugs

In some states, possession of small amounts of certain drugs may be classified as a non-jailable offense. For example, some jurisdictions have decriminalized the possession of small quantities of marijuana for personal use. In these cases, people found in possession may face a civil fine or mandatory drug education programs rather than criminal charges and jail time.

What is a Wobbler Offense?

A wobbler offense refers to a crime that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Felonies carry more severe penalties, including higher fines and prison sentences exceeding one year.

States may designate an offense as a wobbler offense based on their penal codes. This happens when the statute explicitly states that specific elements will turn the crime into a wobbler.

For example, a state criminal statute may stipulate that if a defendant satisfies five out of six requirements for a misdemeanor crime, it will “wobble” and transform into a felony. If the prosecutor charges the offender with a wobbler offense as a felony, the court may decide whether it should remain a misdemeanor penalty.

Examples of factors that could contribute to a wobbler charge include:

  • The defendant’s prior criminal record: A first-time offender may face misdemeanor charges, while a repeat offender is more likely to face felony charges;
  • The severity of the crime: The more significant the property damage or harm inflicted on a person, the more likely the crime will be considered a felony; and
  • The defendant’s age: Juveniles are less likely to face felony charges and more likely to receive a misdemeanor charge.

If you encounter issues related to a wobbler offense, consult a local criminal defense attorney. They can help you determine whether there is any possibility of reducing or maintaining the charge as a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

Are There Any Alternative Sentencing Options for Misdemeanor Charges?

Alternative sentencing options may be available for certain misdemeanor charges. These options are typically applied to less serious crimes, non-jailable offenses, juvenile offenders, and first-time offenders.

Alternative sentencing options generally aim to minimize a defendant’s time in jail.

Examples of alternative sentencing measures may include:

Thus, alternative sentencing options can often allow a person to continue functioning within their communities even after being charged with an offense.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Misdemeanor Offenses?

If you face a misdemeanor charge, contact a local criminal defense attorney. They will be able to guide you through the process and determine which laws and misdemeanor classifications apply to your case.

Additionally, an experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to prepare any necessary documents for your case and can represent you in court. They can also assess whether misdemeanor defenses are available for your case or possibilities for a reduction in charges. This legal support is invaluable in navigating the complexities of misdemeanor offenses and ensuring the best possible outcome for your case.

How Can LegalMatch Help?

LegalMatch is an online legal matching service connecting clients with local attorneys. If you are facing a misdemeanor charge, you can use LegalMatch to find an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you with your case.

To use LegalMatch, simply submit your case details on our website, and attorneys interested in your case will contact you with offers to represent you. You can then review their profiles, ratings, and reviews to find the right attorney.

LegalMatch also offers a satisfaction guarantee, which means that if you are not satisfied with the attorney they connect you with, you can request a new one at no additional cost.

Use LegalMatch to find the best attorney for your case and get the legal support you need to navigate your misdemeanor offense.


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