What Is a Class A Misdemeanor?
Misdemeanors are the least serious group of crimes in every state and are generally punishable by a maximum of 1 year in jail. That compares to felonies, which can be punishable by up to life in prison, depending on the crime. Eight states divide misdemeanors into classes, with Class A misdemeanors representing the most serious misdemeanor crimes in that state. Those states are: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas. Examples of Class A misdemeanors throughout the country include:
- Possession of drug paraphernalia – Alabama
- Domestic violence – Arkansas
- Aggravated assault – Illinois
- Shoplifting – less than $500 – Missouri
- Possession of marijuana – up to ½ ounce – Tennessee
- Carrying a gun without a permit – Texas
Maximum and Minimum Sentences
The starting point to determine a sentence for a particular Class A misdemeanor crime is the pre-set sentencing range. In several states, including Alabama, Arkansas and Missouri, the maximum sentence is up to a year in a local or country facility. In Tennessee, the maximum sentence for a Class A misdemeanor is 11 months, 29 days in jail. Fines are also a possibility, though they are not required. Most states have a maximum fine of $1,000 or $2,50o for any Class A misdemeanor with the exception of Texas at $4,000 and Alabama at $6,000. Kentucky bucks the trend on the lower end, with a maximum fine of $500.
The good news with a misdemeanor charge is that many states are willing to negotiate sentences short of jail time because of overcrowding issues. However, it’s crucial to negotiate with police and prosecutors with the help of an experienced criminal attorney. There are diversion programs, deferred sentences, and other sentencing alternatives that avoid jail and result in no criminal record. If this is your first arrest, many states have first offender programs. In Arkansas, that usually involves classes, restitution, and a clear record for at least 6 months or a year. Another option is a suspended sentence. The Missouri Supreme Court has upheld suspended sentences for many misdemeanors and some felonies, saying this form of alternative sentencing allows a defendant “to avoid the stigma of a lifetime conviction and the collateral consequences that follow.” However, it is possible to have enhanced penalties for misdemeanors. For example, if you are arrested twice for the same misdemeanor in Illinois you are automatically sentenced for a felony.
Loss of Rights and Benefits
As soon as you are convicted of a Class A misdemeanor, you generally lose the following rights:
- Hold some occupations, from barber to real estate agent, particularly those in healthcare, which require state or federal licenses
- Work as police officer or firefighter – Pennsylvania
- Ability to qualify for state and federal government employment
- Ability to qualify for public procurement contracts
- Vote – Illinois
A common misconception is that a misdemeanor conviction has no significant collateral consequences. While the loss of civil rights is greater after a felony conviction, a single misdemeanor conviction can limit job opportunities and affect a person’s ability to qualify for low-income housing, Food Stamps, and other state and local programs, depending on the crime involved. While some civil rights are restored as soon as the sentence for the crime is served, others require expungement or a pardon from the governor.
Employment and Housing with a Felony Record
Why do potential employers and landlords care about misdemeanor convictions? According to a survey by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there are two main reasons. One is to “combat theft and fraud” and the second is “potential liability for negligent hiring.” If a new employee with a criminal record commits a crime that impacts another employee, the company can be sued for that hiring decision. Experts say felons should check with state agencies to find landlords and companies that are participating in re-entry programs and are welcoming people with criminal records.
Clearing Your Record
Most states have a process in which felons can apply to have misdemeanor convictions expunged. The end result is that all details of the arrest and conviction are completely removed from the record. Even better, the law allows someone who has had a crime expunged to truthfully answer “no” if asked if he or she has ever been arrested for a crime. You may want to have a criminal attorney help with the expungement process since many states require waiting periods. That period is 5 years in Kentucky, although there is no waiting period for someone convicted of a drug offense that qualified for diversion. Someone with a criminal record can also apply for a pardon from the governor. The process varies from state to state and usually involves a waiting period of 3 to 5 years – or more – from the completion of the sentence. A criminal attorney can recommend the easiest and fastest way to clear your record. The information contained above is for informational purposes only. If you need legal advice, you should visit an attorney.