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What is a Misdemeanor?

Facing a legal charge of any kind is concerning. However, it’s important to understand the legal language behind those charges. Some of the most common offenses in America are misdemeanors. We’ll explain what misdemeanors are, give examples of common offenses, and then discuss how misdemeanors are tried. Finally, we’ll outline the penalties a judge may give convicted defendants.

The Definition of a Misdemeanor

American law differentiates different crimes based on their seriousness. Although all crimes are serious, some harm society more than others and are tried accordingly. Felonies are considered the most serious, and they include crimes like murder. An infraction refers to the least serious crimes sometimes committed by citizens. Misdemeanors sit between these two extremes. Misdemeanors cover a huge range of crimes, including first-time spousal abuse, property damage, and reckless driving. Repeating misdemeanor crimes, however, may lead to felony charges.

States usually categorize misdemeanors into different classes. Specific crimes fall under different classes, and these help judges determine the seriousness of the crime and the proper punishment. If you’re facing misdemeanor charges, be sure to discuss with your lawyer what class of misdemeanor the alleged crime falls under and the potential results.

Where Are Misdemeanors Tried

Defendants facing misdemeanor charges face a judge in the lowest courts. These may be municipal or police and justice courts. They are most commonly tried at the municipal level.

Even though misdemeanor crimes are not considered as serious as felonies, many defendants are still held in jail to await trial. Due to the limited punishments given for misdemeanor crimes, many defendants choose to plead guilty simply to end their time in a cell. Unfortunately, even innocent defendants spend less time behind bars when they plead guilty. By pleading not guilty, they often end up waiting longer while the legal process reaches its eventual conclusion.

Potential Penalties

Misdemeanor penalties change by state. In fact, an offense considered a misdemeanor in one state could be considered a felony the next state over. Every state assigns penalties a little differently. The most common penalty for a misdemeanor crime, however, is a fine. Money isn’t the only thing at stake, however. Convicted misdemeanor offenders could spend up to a year in jail. In a select few states, such as Massachusetts, misdemeanors may carry sentences lasting two and a half years. Shorter sentences, however, are fairly common. Community service is another penalty associated with lesser charges. Professionals facing a misdemeanor related to their profession must be especially careful. In addition to the usual penalties we’ve already discussed, professionals could lose civic positions, licensing, and other work-related privileges.

It’s important to remember that misdemeanors still impact your life after you’ve served your sentence. They go on your record and could prevent you from getting a job, securing an apartment, or participating in other daily activities. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you should seek experienced legal help right away. The potential penalties may not be as severe as felony cases, but they are no joke, and they could haunt you for the rest of your life

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