Most state laws classify crimes as an infraction, misdemeanor or felony. Misdemeanor crimes are less serious than felonies, with the line of separation typically length of punishment. Most misdemeanors are punishable with sentences less than a year in length and often include a fine.
Misdemeanors often are punished just by fines. Jail time, which is often on the local level in a county jail, is not always the case. Misdemeanors can also be resolved with probation, community service or treatment programs.
The misdemeanor punishments vary from state to state, but one consistent thing is that misdemeanors are divided into two categories. Which category a misdemeanor falls in depends on what is threatened: people or property. Additionally as with felonies, states classify misdemeanors with a tiered approach that signifies the severity of offense (i.e. class A, B, C or Class 1, 2, 3 and so on).
Examples of misdemeanor crimes against persons:
An assault is the unlawful attempt or offer to direct violence at someone with the purpose of hurting them. Assault is an overt act that makes the victim feel scared. An open threat coupled with perceived ability to carry out the threat can be assault even if the victim is never physically harmed. If a weapon is involved in the assault or the threat, the charge will often be elevated to a felony. Punching someone and causing minor injuries can be labeled simple assault. The penalties vary. In the state of Mississippi, for example, simple assault can result in up to a $500 fine and no more than six months in jail.
This involves unruly or raucous behavior in public places. There are expansive options for what qualify in this instance. Public drunkenness, disturbing a peaceful assembly, making loud noise or even loitering can qualify as disorderly conduct. This crime is very much a judgment call for law enforcement. The penalties for disorderly conduct are usually minor in consequence since the crime is so low level, especially for first-time offenders.
Driving under the influence, also known as driving while intoxicated in some states, occurs when operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs (illegal or prescription). In most states, the first two convictions for DUI/DWI are considered misdemeanors. More than two or if someone is hurt or killed as a result of driving under the influence, it’s considered a felony offense.
Typically, this is assault and battery performed by one household resident against another. But, domestic violence can also be recognized as a mental act. When someone is calling another person names, controlling them or generally influencing the other in a controlling manner, it can qualify as domestic violence. In many states, this doesn't just include violence against spouses and children. It counts simply for people who live together. Some states even include couples that are dating. It's after multiple occurrences, that domestic violence can be elevated to a felony. Under Colorado law, a domestic violence misdemeanor receives a 24-month probation sentence. A jail sentence is much more likely if it is a repeated offense.
The act of exposing one's private body parts in a public place, and offending someone in the public, is known as indecent exposure. Contact with another during this act can elevate the severity of this crime. Touching someone else or involving minors during indecent exposure can result in a more severe penalty than would normally be associated with misdemeanors.
This is the trading of sexual acts for an economic benefit. In an odd case of alleged prostitution, bikini baristas at a coffee stand in Everett, Washington, were charged with the crime for flashing customers or allowing customers to touch them for extra cash. Both sides of the equation, prostitution and solicitation, are misdemeanors.
Examples of misdemeanor crimes against property:
Theft is when something of value is taken without the owner's consent. Whether it is from the home, off a person or from a store, the severity of the crime usually depends on the value of the item acquired. Stealing someone's hubcaps will result in a different level of fine than stealing someone's rare painting. Like other misdemeanors, being a repeat or first-time offender will influence the severity of the penalty. In addition, receiving or possessing stolen property is a misdemeanor in many states. A crucial element of theft is that no matter the level, it becomes a part of your permanent record. This can be a negative influence on future employment since it is often a question on an application.
If a person enters another person's property without permission or the legal authority to do so and knows that, then they have committed the crime of trespassing. This is not limited to simply walking onto someone else's property. Any form of unwelcome infringement onto another person's land, whether it's a fence over the property line or throwing trash onto another person's property, can be considered trespassing.
This crime is committed when someone destroys or defaces another person's property. Graffiti, throwing objects at a house or car or busting up someone's fence are all examples of vandalism. All those road signs with bullet holes in them? That's vandalism. As is damage from rioting, such as the breaking of a storefront window.
Misdemeanor classes and example penalties
As mentioned earlier, misdemeanor classes and penalties vary by state. Here are some examples:
In Missouri, a Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $1,000. Class B, 30 days to six months in jail and up to $500. Class C, a maximum of 15 days in jail and $300 fine.
In Wisconsin, Class A misdemeanors can include a fine of up to $10,000. Class B misdemeanors can include a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment for up to 90 days. Class C misdemeanors can be up to a $500 fine or 30 days in jail.
Unlike with many felony offenses, misdemeanor offenders retain most rights. A person who has a misdemeanor on their record may still be able to serve on a jury, practice the professions, and vote.