Misdemeanor Charges 101: Flexible Treatment, Federal Treatment, and Consequences

The punishment prescribed for gross misdemeanors is greater than that prescribed for ordinary misdemeanors. It is also less than that prescribed for felonies, which impose state prison. Some states, like Minnesota, define a gross misdemeanor as "any crime that is not a felony or a misdemeanor."

A misdemeanor is a criminal offense that is less serious than a felony but more serious than an infraction. Misdemeanor offenses are generally punishable by a fine, suspension of your driver's license, or incarceration in a local county jail. In contrast, infractions impose no jail time. Examples of misdemeanors include:

  • Shoplifting
  • Driving under the influence (DUI)
  • Driving while intoxicated (DWI)
  • Reckless driving
  • Indecent exposure
  • Public intoxication
  • Trespassing
  • Petty theft
  • Simple assault
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Petty larceny
  • Some cases of domestic violence

Many jurisdictions separate misdemeanors into three classes of criminal charges. These classes include high or gross misdemeanors, ordinary misdemeanors, and petty misdemeanors. Petty misdemeanors usually result in community service, a jail sentence of less than six months, or a fine of $500 or less.

Below, you will find more information about the definition of a misdemeanor and misdemeanor classifications. You'll also learn about the judge's discretion in sentencing.

Flexible Treatment of Misdemeanors

Some states have broad sentencing guidelines that allow prosecutors and judges some sentencing flexibility. Other states, like California, give their prosecutors discretion to charge some crimes as "wobblers." This means the district attorney (D.A.) or the judge can choose to pursue a single criminal matter as a misdemeanor or as a felony, with the usual consequences attached to either one. Once the D.A. or the judge chooses to treat a crime as a misdemeanor or a felony, the appropriate rights and consequences then attach to the charge.

Federal Treatment of Misdemeanors

In contrast, federal law on misdemeanors follows strict federal sentencing guidelines. The federal guidelines are applied according to the federal sentencing guideline manual chart. The chart incorporates fixed values for the severity of the offense, the defendant's criminal history, and other aggravating factors. The federal sentencing chart also considers mitigating factors like law-enforcement cooperation and early acceptance of responsibility.

Federal Class A misdemeanors are crimes that are punishable by six months to a year of jail. Federal Class B misdemeanors impose 30 days to six months in jail. Class C misdemeanors impose five to 30 days in jail. Crimes punishable by fewer than five days in jail are federal infractions.

Consequences of Misdemeanors

It's important to note that misdemeanors, unlike infractions, are often considered "crimes of moral turpitude," as they threaten jail time rather than mere fines. This distinction gives a convicted misdemeanant significantly reduced chances for a scholarship or good job.

Nowadays, even a dismissed or uncharged arrest for a misdemeanor can destroy a person's future job prospects. For this reason, it's often best for someone charged with a misdemeanor to seek an expungement. This is when a court seals or erases an arrest or conviction from a person's criminal record.

Facing Misdemeanor Charges? Speak With a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Knowing the consequences of a misdemeanor conviction and the best defenses to use in a criminal case is the job of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Some misdemeanor crimes may even result in local jail time, in addition to fines and other burdens. It's important to have the right advocate on your side when facing a criminal conviction. Get started today and talk to a criminal defense attorney about your misdemeanor case.

Was this helpful?

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex criminal defense situations usually require a lawyer
  • Defense attorneys can help protect your rights
  • A lawyer can seek to reduce or eliminate criminal penalties

Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


If you need an attorney, find one right now.