What Is A Misdemeanor?
In the United States, a misdemeanor is a crime that is more serious than a citation or a ticket but less serious than a felony. There are three main classes of misdemeanors, A, B, and C. The class of misdemeanor charged will depend on the type of crime, the severity of the crime, and in some cases, whether or not a person was previously convicted of the same crime.
Some of the most common convictions of a misdemeanor include indecent exposure, basic assault, public intoxication, trespassing, and petty theft. While a misdemeanor will not land someone in prison, the most severe ones are punishable by up to a year of county jail time. The least severe penalty is an infraction, which is a typical traffic or parking ticket.
Misdemeanor vs. Felony
A felony by definition is a much more severe crime than a misdemeanor. Felonies stay on your record permanently. They can prevent someone from voting, legally owning a firearm, and even from getting certain jobs.
A misdemeanor is a less severe offense than a felony. In most cases, it won’t prevent you from getting a job, and it won’t keep someone from owning a firearm or voting. However, a misdemeanor will often still be punishable by a fine or even with jail time. For misdemeanors, the jail time is usually served in county jail instead of a high-security state prison.
Probation is also an alternative to jail for those that are convicted of a misdemeanor. This is a supervision program designed to make sure that those who are convicted hold a steady job, avoid illegal drugs, and do not get into any more legal trouble.
The Different Misdemeanor Classes & Charges
Class A Misdemeanor
Class A is the most serious misdemeanor. It includes crimes such as assault, a second DWI offense, perjury, prostitution, vandalism, petty theft, and possession of a controlled substance (depending on which substance).
Class A misdemeanors carry the most severe sentence of any of the misdemeanor classes. There is a maximum jail sentence of one year, with fines as little as $500 or up to several thousand dollars. Depending on one’s criminal history and prior convictions, the sentences may be more severe.
More severe controlled substances will appear as Class A misdemeanors if they are found in certain quantities. Disturbing the peace is another misdemeanor that can vary depending on severity.
Class B Misdemeanor
Sometimes called Class II, these misdemeanors are more severe than class C but less harsh than Class A. Some examples include criminal trespassing, harassment, and the first offense of a DWI. Failure to pay child support, indecent exposure, and terroristic threat can also qualify as Class B misdemeanors.
At the federal level of the United States, they are punishable by up to six months in prison. In Texas, there is a 30-day minimum jail sentence for someone with a prior conviction of a felony or a Class A or B misdemeanor.
Class C Misdemeanor
This is the least severe of the misdemeanor classifications, sometimes referred to as Class III in some states. Examples of Class C include petty theft, trespassing, disorderly conduct, public intoxication, or a minor in possession of alcohol or tobacco. Many traffic offenses are also Class C misdemeanors, as is the possession of marijuana in some states.
Differences Between States
The maximum punishment of the different misdemeanors will vary from state to state, as will the way that the misdemeanors are classified. For example, the state of Florida classifies misdemeanors as first, second, and third-degree. Penalties for a misdemeanor can also vary between federal and state courts.
While they are not as severe as felonies, misdemeanors still look bad on someone’s criminal record and can lead to unwanted fines and up to a year of jail time.
View our other Glossary Terms here.
*This article is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice.