In most jurisdictions, a misdemeanor is a crime that is punishable by a maximum sentence of one year in jail, and it is classified as a malum prohibitum crime. This is distinct from citations or lesser crimes punishable only by fines. It is also a different classification from felonies, which involve sentences of greater than one year. Misdemeanors are more serious than infractions, but less serious than a felony. Misdemeanors are usually not punishable by jail time depending on the person's criminal history. However, sometimes, misdemeanor crimes are punishable in a local county jail for up to a year. Jail time for Misdemeanors are also never served in a maximum security prison, but rather served in a local county jail.

By contrast, a felony charge may result in imprisonment for greater than one year. The sentence will be served in a prison facility rather than a county jail. This is the main distinction in the consideration of what is a felony versus a misdemeanor.

What Are Some Examples for Misdemeanor Crimes?

Common examples of misdemeanors include:

What Are the Penalties for a Misdemeanor Conviction?

Misdemeanor penalties involve jail sentences of one year maximum. This can be anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Charges resulting in greater than one year are classified as felonies. Misdemeanor charges can also result in other consequences, such as a criminal fine, a loss of driving privileges, or community service requirements.

What Are the Legal Penalties Associated With Each Misdemeanor Class?

For misdemeanor crimes, state laws will vary widely regarding how they assign punishments for each misdemeanor class. Punishments for misdemeanors will generally look like the following:

  • Class 1 or A:  Fines of up to $5,000, and/or a jail sentence of up to 12 months
  • Class 2 or B:  Fines up to $1,000, and/or a jail sentence of 6-9 months
  • Class 3 or C:  Fines up to $1,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to 3 months
  • Class 4 or D:  Fines up to $500 and/or a jail sentence of up to 30 days

Note that many states do not assign jail time for Class 4 or even Class 3 misdemeanors. Also, repeat offenses can result in higher penalties for the same type of misdemeanor.

What Is a Gross Misdemeanor?

In addition to the broad category of "misdemeanor," there are often various classes of misdemeanors, such as Class A or Class B, C, or D misdemeanors. Class A is usually the most serious classification, with penalties being the most severe. Class D is usually the least serious offense.

Gross misdemeanors usually rank as the more serious misdemeanor charges (usually Class A or B), but are not yet ranked as a felony offense. Many gross misdemeanors often involve an element of serious recklessness or a blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of others. Various DUI claims are often prosecuted as gross misdemeanors charges.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With a Misdemeanor Charge?

If you are facing misdemeanor criminal charges, you should speak with a criminal defense lawyer immediately. Misdemeanors can often involve some serious legal consequences. It’s in your best interests to hire a qualified lawyer for assistance with your legal case. An attorney in your area can help represent you during the case and can provide legal advice for your defense.