Defining Types and Classes of Misdemeanor Charges
There are thousands of possibilities to commit crimes in the United States. Fortunately, a vast majority of those crimes are classified as misdemeanors or minor infractions, depending on the nature of the crime and the person’s intent to commit the crime.
When a person is arrested, they will be charged with a crime. During the arraignment hearing, the accused hears the type and class of the crime and may plead guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If the person pleads not guilty, the case proceeds to trial. If you are accused of a crime, no matter how minor, you always have the option to plead not guilty.
Misdemeanors, unlike felonies, are minor crimes which are punished with 12 months or less of time in jail. Misdemeanor crimes may also be punished with fines, probation, or community service, and almost always have conditions imposed on sentencing.
The amount of punishment for a misdemeanor crime varies with the severity of the crime—its type and class. State guidelines are similar for all 50 United States, but each state judicial system sets up its own classes and recommended punishments. In New York State, for instance, misdemeanors are divided into Class A, Class B, and Unclassed Misdemeanors. Wisconsin and Texas include a Class C type. California does not have classes of crimes; they simply divide charges into felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions. Other states may have gross misdemeanors or aggravated misdemeanors.
Repeat offenders, even if they commit less serious crimes the second or third time, are subject to more severe penalties than first time misdemeanor offenders. In most states, three strikes laws mean that punishments are added together for certain periods of time (usually 5 to 10 years), so if a misdemeanor offender commits another offense within that period of time, conditions of jail release or probation may be revoked and the person may serve many months in jail or pay many thousands of dollars in fines and fees.
Mandatory minimums are levels of punishment which are the absolute least a judge will use in sentencing. Mandatory maximums are the absolute most punishment a person might experience if convicted of a misdemeanor. In most cases, judges are allowed to stay (set aside) portions of sentences, so mandatory minimums may not apply to all sentences.
Class A/Class 1 Misdemeanor or Gross Misdemeanor Punishments
The most severe misdemeanors carry high fines and high possible jail sentences. Someone convicted of an aggravated misdemeanor (Class A) may be punished with up to one year in jail and fines up to $10,000 depending upon the crime.
Class A crimes are committed willfully with the intent to inflict harm on other people or property. Thus, these crimes are divided into “degrees” which further define the intent of the offender. First degree assault is a more serious crime than third degree assault.
Common types of Class A/Class 1 misdemeanors include:
• Prostitution or solicitation
• Unlawful imprisonment
• Petty theft
• Check fraud
• Contempt of court
• Drug or controlled substance possession
• Possession of stolen property
Typically, degrees of these crimes include First Degree, Second Degree, and Third Degree. Fourth degree and lower crimes are usually classed as Class B/Class 2 misdemeanors.
Class B/Class 2 Misdemeanor Punishments
Lesser misdemeanor crimes are punished with less jail time. Some states have maximum sentences of 6 to 9 months of jail time and up to $8,000 in fines. Class B misdemeanors usually have long probationary periods and will often release convicted criminals from jail with conditions.
All the Class A crimes are included under Class 2 misdemeanors, with lower levels of degree. The severity of the crime and the intent of the criminal are taken into consideration during sentencing.
Class C/Class 3 Misdemeanor Crimes
Some crimes are simply minor infractions so the judge will impose lighter sentences and fines. The most minor crimes may receive a jail sentence of 30 days or less and fines up to $1,000. Jail sentences will often be completely stayed for first time offenders if they follow the rules of probation.
Most Class C crimes are punished with fines, probation, and community service. Being convicted of a Class 3 misdemeanor or less will probably not result in higher insurance rates, for instance, or be included within the three strikes laws of most states. Guidelines vary, however, so check your state’s code carefully.
Some states have created an unclassed classification of misdemeanor crimes. This simply sets those crimes outside the usual classification system so they carry specific penalties related only to that crime. Drug charges and alcohol infractions are often unclassed misdemeanors.
The punishment for an unclassed misdemeanor crime may be severe, or it may be mandatory. For instance, a mandatory 30 day stay in jail may be applied to minor marijuana possession. If convicted of this unclassed misdemeanor, a person found with even a very small amount of marijuana will probably serve time in jail.
DWI and DUI are often unclassed offenses. The punishments for DWI and DUI can be very severe, especially for repeat offenders. Special sections within state law codes are devoted just to these offenses, so you must study them carefully or consult with a qualified professional to learn the types and classifications of these misdemeanors.
The Difference between Probation and Parole
Misdemeanor offenders are sentenced to serve in local or county jails, which usually have less security than prison. Under certain conditions, an offender may be released from jail to work, returning to jail at the end of the work day. State or federal prison is for more serious crimes or for those serving sentences longer than one year.
Parole is the term used for convicted criminals who have been released from prison. Probation is the term used for convicted criminals who have been released from jail on condition or who are required to fulfill other punishments for their crimes. Probation is usually less strict than parole, but the person must follow all the rules for a certain length of time to avoid more severe punishment. Minor criminals may even be sentenced to unsupervised probation, in which they maintain proper behavior without the guidance of an authority.
Punishments for Misdemeanors
Misdemeanor punishments may include:
• A jail sentence of 12 months or less
• Conditional discharge from jail
• Probation for varying lengths of time
• Fines and fees
• Performing hours of community service
• Suspension of driver’s or professional licenses
• Retraining orders or orders of protection
• Mandatory drug or alcohol treatment programs
• Loss of firearm rights
Each class and type of misdemeanor carries different levels of punishment. The most minor crimes may be punished with community service hours or a small fine. More severe misdemeanors carry jail sentences, larger fines, and longer probation periods.
Staying Jail Time or Conditional Release
Often, a judge will sentence a misdemeanor crime with a longer jail sentence but part of that time may be set aside under certain conditions. For instance, the judge may stay (set aside) part of the jail sentence on the condition that the convicted criminal will go through a drug and alcohol treatment program, pay all fines and fees, and remain law abiding for a certain period of time. These are common conditions of probation.
If the convicted misdemeanor criminal does not follow these rules, he or she may be required to serve the entire jail sentence as punishment in addition to any other sentences which may be put in place.
Performing Community Service Instead of Paying Fines
For minor misdemeanors, community service hours may be performed instead of paying the full amount of fines. Community service involves volunteering at the local food shelf, Habitat for Humanity, women’s shelters, and so on for a certain number of hours. The supervisor of the nonprofit organization keeps track of the volunteer’s hours, and the hours are submitted to a probation officer who applies them to the total fine.