What is a Misdemeanor?

In the United States, crimes are classified as infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. Infractions incur the least severe penalties—generally punishable by a fine or a short imprisonment of less than five days— while felonies receive the most severe punishments—over one year of imprisonment in a federal or state penitentiary up to the death sentence (see What is a Felony?). Crimes that are punishable by imprisonment of more than five days and up to a year are considered misdemeanor offenses.

Since misdemeanors are a less serious type of crime with less severe penalties, people charged with a misdemeanor generally do not have the right to trial by jury and must pay a fee if they would like their case to be heard before a jury. Also, if you cannot afford an attorney, some jurisdictions do not provide you with a court-appointed attorney. It is important to know what rights you have and make sure those rights are protected. An attorney from your state should be able to help you determine the best course of action for the charge that has been filed against you.

Crimes that are generally considered misdemeanors are shoplifting, trespassing, and petty theft in addition to other crimes of a similar nature. Since misdemeanors are “lesser” crimes, the punishment is usually less severe than more deplorable felony crimes. Punishment may include imprisonment up to one year, fines, restitution, community service, probation or a combination of these.

Consequences are generally determined by the nature of the crime and your criminal record. If you are fighting a misdemeanor for a second offense, your penalty may be more severe than someone who commits the same crime with no prior convictions. An experienced criminal law attorney should be able to help you understand the charges you are facing and the potential consequences of a conviction.

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor crime, your conviction will be placed on your record. This means that when employers conduct background checks, they will see that you have a misdemeanor conviction in your past. Therefore, it is important to be upfront and honest with your potential employers. In some instances, your record may be cleared.

To have your record expunged (cleared), you must check with the jurisdiction in which your crime was committed. Every state has different laws on how criminal records are treated and how long they last. Contacting an attorney who is familiar with your state’s laws may be a good idea if you would like to pursue having your name cleared.

Punishments for misdemeanor crimes—and even the definition of misdemeanor crimes—vary by state. It is, therefore, important to seek legal representation from a criminal law attorney in your state if you are seeking legal representation or legal advice.

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