Have questions about what a misdemeanor is and how this type of criminal offense works?

By reading our complete FAQs guide, you get more answers and learn everything you need to know about misdemeanors: the different classes (A, B, C), penalties, jail time, employment implications, background checks, and much more!

What is Misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor refers to a criminal offense that is considered to be of a moderate level of seriousness and often results in milder punishments. A misdemeanor is not as severe as felony charges but is more serious than infractions (a violation of the law).

The sentence for a misdemeanor can vary from one state to another, and also the severity of the offense, but typically involves:

  • Fines
  • Short periods of incarceration
  • Community service
  • Probation
  • Mandatory rehab or counseling

Some of the most common examples of misdemeanors include the following (in some cases, they may be considered a felony instead of a misdemeanor):

  • Petty theft
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Indecent exposure
  • Public intoxication
  • Simple assault
  • Trespassing
  • Driving under the influence (DUI)
  • Driving without a license or with an expired license
  • Shoplifting
  • Vandalism
  • Animal cruelty

Misdemeanor legal definition

How Many Classes of Misdemeanors are There?

In the US, there are broadly three classes of misdemeanors depending on the seriousness of the crime. Further, the class of misdemeanor also decides the severity of the punishment. The classification is as follows:

  1. Class A Misdemeanor
  2. Class B Misdemeanor
  3. Class C Misdemeanor

Class A Misdemeanor:

Also known as a first-degree misdemeanor, it is the most severe form of misdemeanor and has a high potential of attracting the most harsh punishments.

Examples of Class A misdemeanors often involve the following:

  • Assault
  • Domestic violence
  • DUI (first offense and no extenuating circumstances)
  • Grand theft
  • Violating a protective order

Generally, Class A misdemeanors have the possibility of causing harm or damage to a third party or the general public.

The punishments for Class A misdemeanors include a maximum jail time of one year and fines. The fines can vary based on jurisdiction and can be anywhere between hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Class B Misdemeanor:

Like Class A, these Class B crimes can also attract jail time and fines, but in a much more lenient manner.

Class B misdemeanors can bring a few months in jail for the accused for crimes and typically involve offenses such as the following:

  • Public intoxication (after multiple convictions instead of Class C)
  • Shoplifting
  • Trespassing

Class C Misdemeanor:

Out of the three levels of a misdemeanor, Class C (level three) is the least severe form of misdemeanor. It involves crimes such as:

  • Curfew violations
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Noise violations

Class C offenses can bring probation, fines, short incarceration, or community service.

It is important to note that the court’s final verdict will vary from one jurisdiction to another and may comprise one or more punishments.

What is Unclassified Misdemeanor?

An unclassified misdemeanor is an offense that doesn’t fit into any specific category and thus will have outcomes/punishments governed by jurisdiction and/or state laws.

For instance, in many US states, the possession of cannabis may be an unclassified misdemeanor.

What is the Maximum Sentence for a Misdemeanor?

In most states, the maximum jail sentence for misdemeanor charges is one year.  The punishment may also include penalties such as fines ordered by the court.

Some states have laws that make these fines automatic for specific misdemeanors and not optional. Still, often, the amount of the fine can be at the judge’s discretion, with there being a minimum and maximum dollar amount.

Are All Misdemeanors Criminal Offenses?

Yes, although there are varying degrees of severity for misdemeanor charges, it is still a criminal offense at the end of the day. A misdemeanor conviction will remain on your record and can potentially impact many future activities, such as loans and mortgages.

Do States Extradite for Misdemeanors?

Extradition is the legal process where a jurisdiction requests the custody transfer of the accused from another jurisdiction. Typically, these involve two states in the US and are very standard for felony charges.

However, some misdemeanor charges also have provisions to facilitate extradition.

Further, the working relationship between the states involved also impacts the possibilities for extradition, the better the relationship, the higher the chances of extraditing.

It is also important to note that the case’s specifics also affect this.

For instance, if the defendant is a threat to the public or is considered a flight risk, the states involved can extradite.

The Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision is an agreement among states that allows the transfer and supervision of certain offenders.

Is Murder a Felony or Misdemeanor?

Murder, one of the most severe crimes in the legal system, is a felony charge, not a misdemeanor. This felony charge can invite severe punishments such as incarceration for long periods or, in some instances, the death penalty.

While murder as a crime is a felony, there is further classification on the seriousness of the murder, such as first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and third-degree murder.

Are Traffic Violations a Misdemeanor?

Traffic violations can either be classified as misdemeanors or lesser serious infractions, depending on the severity of the crime. For instance, running a red light or not following traffic rules are less severe by nature and may be considered an infraction by many jurisdictions.

Other forms of traffic violations as an infraction are speeding, tailgating, etc. In contrast, more serious offenses such as DUI (Driving Under the Influence) that can harm the public are considered misdemeanors (could potentially be felonies).

Other types of crimes that can be considered misdemeanors include:

  • Reckless driving does not result in injury or death.
  • Hit-and-run, which only resulted in property damage (fleeing the scene of the crime or causing severe injury can result in a felony charge.)
  • Vehicular manslaughter (in some states, such as Texas, it is considered a felony).

Is Jaywalking a Misdemeanor?

No, jaywalking as an offense is typically not classified as a misdemeanor but rather an infraction. Still, the states have different laws and penalties.

For instance, on January 1, 2023, jaywalking was decriminalized in California under the “Freedom to Walk Act” and is no longer a misdemeanor and legal in California.

However, it can be an infraction if the jaywalker causes there to be an immediate chance of a collision by walking across the street at the incorrect location due to the increased risk of danger.

For clarification: Jaywalking refers to a pedestrian crossing the road where it is not allowed and potentially causing a hazard to drivers or others not expecting to see them in the middle of the road.

In contrast, crossing the street at an intersection crosswalk (designated location for pedestrians to cross) is an example of a location where it is not jaywalking to cross.

Do Misdemeanors Show up on Background Checks?

Yes, a misdemeanor conviction may show up on background checks. Although not as severe as a felony, a misdemeanor is still a criminal offense that can invite jail time, probation, community service, or fines.

Misdemeanor can appear in the following types of background checks:

  • Employment checks
  • Education background checks
  • Security clearance
  • Credit background checks
  • Tenant background checks by landlords

The duration of misdemeanor charges (if convicted or pled guilty) on the records depends from one jurisdiction to another.

For instance, in some states, the charges stay for up to 7 years, while others make misdemeanor convictions remain on your record lifelong.

Will a Misdemeanor Affect Employment?

Yes, a misdemeanor conviction can affect employment opportunities. The extent to which it can negatively impact may depend on the seriousness of the misdemeanor charge, the punishment received, Industry regulations, and the employer’s policies.

Some employers may have a strict no-hire policy if the candidate is convicted of certain types of crimes.

Similarly, some industries, such as healthcare or education, may have their own guidelines and policies against hiring employees with misdemeanor records.

Can a First Time Misdemeanor be Dismissed?

Yes, first-time misdemeanor charges can be dismissed under certain circumstances, which include the following examples:

  • Type of misdemeanor charges: Some petty charges may be dismissed more easily than others
  • The criminal history of the offender: First-time offenders may be offered some leniency in some cases if the crime is not severe.
  • Jurisdiction laws: Some jurisdictions may have less strict enforcement for misdemeanor charges.
  • The defendant’s willingness to participate in a pretrial diversion program: This alternative to trial can lead to the dismissal of charges.

Can You Get Misdemeanor Records Expunged?

Yes, you can get misdemeanor records expunged, provided certain specifics are met. The following are some common requirements for this to happen.

To get a misdemeanor record expunged, the defendant must meet the following requirements:

  • Must be convicted of a misdemeanor
  • Has completed all terms of their sentence, such as probation, fines, and jail time
  • Has no other criminal convictions or has not been accused of any crimes since a misdemeanor conviction
  • Has filed an expungement petition with the court

You should contact an expungement lawyer if you have a misdemeanor on your record, as it can make getting hired difficult (if a background check is performed).

This type of lawyer can help you understand what your options are and help you through the expungement legal process, which can last for several months.

Can You Get TSA PreCheck With a Misdemeanor?

Yes, you can still qualify for TSA PreCheck if you have a misdemeanor on your record, as the current TSA PreCheck disqualifying factors do not include misdemeanors as a type of offense that would disqualify an applicant from being approved for PreCheck status.

However, it is essential to note that the misdemeanor on your record will become a moot point if you have one or more of the permanently disqualifying offenses on your record.

For instance, as the rules currently stand, people who pled guilty (including no contest and for reason of insanity) or were convicted of treason or espionage are permanently banned from ever getting approved for PreCheck.

Written by Aaron R. Winston
Last Updated: March 18, 2024 9:50am CDT