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What is a misdemeanor?

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A misdemeanor is defined as any crime that is punishable by no more than one year in jail and a fine. Misdemeanors are more severe than petty crimes but less severe than felonies, which can include incarceration in a state prison for more than one year. Misdemeanors are divided into class 1, class 2 and class 3 misdemeanors with class 1 misdemeanors being the most serious. Depending on the state, these may also be referred to as class A misdemeanors, class B misdemeanors and class C misdemeanors.

A class 1 or class A misdemeanor is the misdemeanor most likely to include jail time. Examples of class 1 misdemeanors include credit card fraud and several drug sale and possession crimes. Possession of two-four ounces of marijuana or the sale of ¼ ounce or less can result in a class 1 misdemeanor. These are punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4000.

A first offense for driving while intoxicated will result in a class 2 or class B misdemeanor, assuming there is no auto accident. Criminal trespassing and prostitution are also class B misdemeanors. These crimes carry a sentence of no more than six months in a county jail and a fine of no more than $2000.

A Class 3 or class C misdemeanor will include offenses such as public intoxication and passing bad checks. Fines for these range as high as $500 and rarely include any jail time. First offenses for all misdemeanors, especially non-violent crimes, are eligible for probation, community service and deferred adjudication.

While the criminal sanctions for misdemeanors are not particularly severe, there are still some other consequences. A misdemeanor conviction will not bar someone from owning a gun, voting or running for public office as a felony conviction will. A misdemeanor conviction can, however, prevent someone from being hired for certain jobs, cost admission to college or graduate school, or result in the loss of a professional license.

Being convicted of any crime, even a low level misdemeanor, can be a serious situation. A conviction can stay on your record for years, even if it is eventually erased following the completion of deferral program. After an arrest, contact a criminal defense attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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