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Misdemeanor Definition

A misdemeanor is a crime that is committed that is not as serious as a felony, but not as minor as an infraction. A misdemeanor will have a different punishment sentence depending on the state where the crime occurred. In many U.S. states, the punishment is being incarcerated for one year or less when a misdemeanor is committed.

What Are Some Examples of Misdemeanors?

Misdemeanor offenses are defined by each state’s criminal statutes. What constitutes a misdemeanor is going to depend on each individual state. Some general examples of misdemeanor crimes are:

How Do Judges Interpret Misdemeanors?

Judges interpret misdemeanors in a wide variety of ways since many state statutes provide them the freedom to do so. Many states offer the opportunity to make crimes “wobble” between a misdemeanor or felony charge. This enables the judge or district attorney to apply the most appropriate punishment specific to the facts of each individual case. The reason for this is that many defendants may be guilty of several crimes along with a misdemeanor charge. Allowing judges and district attorneys to choose between a felony and misdemeanor charges enables courts to target defendants who have criminal patterns and distinguish them from first-time offenders. Once the decision is made between a felony or misdemeanor charge, it is then possible to proceed with the court procedures required for either the felony or misdemeanor charge.

What Is a Typical Punishment for a Misdemeanor Offense?

The punishment for a misdemeanor will vary depending on the severity of the crime committed. Some of the most common forms of punishment include:

  • Community Service
  • Probation
  • Short-term jail terms under one year
  • Part-time imprisonment serving jail time on the weekends
  • Loss of professional licenses, public office or public employment
  • Fines

Different Classes of Misdemeanors

There are many different classes of misdemeanors in the United States that states typically use. The most common tiers are listed below:

High or Gross Misdemeanors

High or gross misdemeanors are usually punished at a less severe degree than felonies, but at a higher level than petty misdemeanors. Depending on that state’s regulations, a high or gross misdemeanor would potentially see up to a year of jail time and a fine of $1,000 or more.

Ordinary Misdemeanors

Ordinary misdemeanors are charges that are less severe than high or gross misdemeanors, but that are still more serious than petty misdemeanors. In terms of punishment, ordinary misdemeanors will have fines up to $1,000 and have a jail sentence of between six months to a year.

Petty Misdemeanors

Petty misdemeanors are some of the least severe charges. A typical punishment for a petty misdemeanor is six months in a local county jail or a fine of up to $500. 

Can Misdemeanors Have an Impact on Future Employment?

Misdemeanors are often overlooked as non-serious offenses; however, they can have consequences that are important to be aware of. Misdemeanors can be considered “crimes of moral turpitude” since they have either a jail sentence or a fine. Even having a misdemeanor can reduce an individual’s potential for obtaining employment or an academic scholarship. Even an individual who had a misdemeanor that was dismissed or uncharged has the ability to have difficulty with future job prospects. In order to avoid this, it is possible to return to the same court where the misdemeanor charge was heard and request a certified finding of factual innocence to show future employers.

How Are Misdemeanors Treated at Federal Law?

Federal law has a stricter application of charges for misdemeanor offenses. In fact, federal guidelines are applied directly pursuant to the federal sentencing guidelines sentencing chart. What this chart takes into account is the defendant’s criminal history, the severity of the offense, and other possible crimes committed at the same time. Federal Class A misdemeanors are crimes that can have punishments of up to six months or a year in jail. Class B misdemeanors have sentences of between 30 days and six months in jail. Class C misdemeanors can have sentences ranging from five to 30 days in jail.

Misdemeanor Glossary Definition

Misdemeanors are crimes that are not as severe as felonies. Misdemeanors do not usually require jail time of more than a year. Individuals who are charged with misdemeanor offenses usually do not have fines of over $1,000. Misdemeanor crimes can include prostitution, vandalism, petty theft, among others.