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What is a Criminal Misdemeanor?

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In general, a criminal misdemeanor is a crime punishable by less than a year in jail and fines. Misdemeanors are considered less serious than felony charges but more serious than infractions. Criminal misdemeanor offenses include crimes like: public drunkenness, vandalism, drug possession, shoplifting, trespassing and petty theft.

Shoplifting and other similar crimes are considered misdemeanor based on the dollar amounts. Assaults and other similar crimes are often classified as misdemeanors if the victim’s injuries were short-term and repairable. Depending on the state, some misdemeanor crimes, like DUIs/DWIs, become felony offenses after the second conviction.

Misdemeanor Classification System

Criminal misdemeanors are often divided up into different classes based on severity and punishment level. Each state has its own classification system for misdemeanor charges and punishments.

For example, in Wisconsin, a Class C misdemeanor can result in jail time for up to 30 days and a fine of up to $500. A Class B misdemeanor can result in jail time for up to 90 days and a fine of up to $1000. The most serious misdemeanor, Class A, can result in up to 9 months in jail or a fine of up to $10,000. Repeat offenders will often receive additional jail time.

Effects of a Criminal Misdemeanor Charges

Sometimes defense attorneys can get the misdemeanor charges reduced or ask the prosecutor to make a deal for alternative punishments, like fines, community service, probation or other options. The prosecutor is more likely to agree if the defendant is first-time offender without a previous criminal history. A second or third time offender may face more severe punishment.

If the defendant is convicted, then criminal misdemeanor charges will show up on the defendant’s criminal record during a background check. These charges can make it difficult to rent an apartment, apply for some jobs or purchase a firearm.


Expungement is an administrative process where certain criminal misdemeanor convictions are sealed or “erased” from an individual’s criminal record. The expunged conviction will not appear on general background checks run by corporations or individuals, but it will appear on the detailed background checks run by the courts and law enforcement agencies.

The individual must wait a certain amount of time before applying for expungement. The individual must also meet all the eligibility requirements. If the conviction was dismissed or acquitted, then expungement may happen very quickly. However, the waiting period can be several years, depending on the charge. Usually sexual offense/child abuse criminal misdemeanor charges cannot be expunged. However, each locality has its own restrictions on the expungement process and how long criminal records last.

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