Misdemeanors are crimes that are less serious than felonies, both in their commission and their punishment. In most states, the punishment for a misdemeanor is up to a year or less in the county jail, as opposed to felony punishment, which can involve state prison. Both misdemeanor and felony convictions may also involve fines and other punishments.
Many states classify misdemeanors into groups, or levels, according to the seriousness of the crime. Legislators group misdemeanors into classes in order to make it easy to assign a punishment. First, the law assigns a sentence, or sentence range, for each group. Then, for every crime, the statute defining the crime states the class that the offense belongs to. For example, assault may be defined as a class A misdemeanor in a particular state; and in that state, class A misdemeanors are punished by a jail term of up to one year and a fine of up to $5,000. As you can see, to learn the sentence for any particular offense, you need to know its class and the punishment amount or range for that class.
Some states use “levels” instead of “classes.” And yet others use unique descriptive words or phrases for their groups, such as “misdemeanor” and “gross misdemeanor.” The purpose is the same no matter what words are used for the classifications—for any given crime, once you know the class or level or other group name, you refer to the statute defining the class, level, or group to learn the sentence.
Some states, however, do not classify their misdemeanor crimes. Instead, for each offense, the punishment is written right into the statute that defines the crime. These states assign penalties on a crime-by-crime basis.
Class A and level one misdemeanors are the most serious of the misdemeanors in the states that use a classification system. Often, very little separates a particular incident from being a class A misdemeanor to becoming a felony.
For example, imagine a fist-fight in which the defendant throws a punch that momentarily hurts his victim but does nothing more. This may qualify as a misdemeanor assault. But if the victim falls and hits his head, resulting in significant brain damage, the charge will probably be a felony.
Here are some examples of class A/level one misdemeanors. For more examples in your state, consult the chart below.
The following states have classified their misdemeanor crimes into classes, levels, or by some other grouping convention: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missoouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, new York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
For details on these states' misdemeanors, sentences and sentence ranges, and examples of crimes that fit within the top grouping of misdemeanors, click the state name in the chart below.
|A, B, or C|
|Alaska||A, B, or C|
|Arizona||1, 2 or 3|
|Arkansas||A, B, or C|
|California||By crime; if no punishment specified, up to 6 months, $1,000, or both|
|Colorado||1, 2, 3 or unclassified (by crime)|
|Connecticut||A, B, C, or D; or unclassified (by crime)|
|Delaware||A or B or unclassified|
|Florida||First or second degree|
|Georgia||"Misdemeanors" and "misdemeanors of a high and aggravated nature"|
|Hawaii||Petty misdemeanor and misdemeanor|
|Illinois||A, B, or C|
|Indiana||A, B, or C|
|Iowa||Aggravated, serious, or simple|
|Kansas||A, B, C or unclassified (same as C)|
|Kentucky||A or B|
|Maine||D or E|
|Michigan||By term: offenses punishable by incarceration of up to 93 days, or up to one year; and high court misdemeanors|
|Minnesota||Gross misdemeanor, misdemeanor, or petty misdemeanor|
|Missouri||A, B, or C|
|Nebraska||I, II, III, IIIA, IV, or V|
|Nevada||Gross misdemeanors or misdemeanors|
|New Hampshire||A or B|
|New Jersey||Disorderly person offense or petty disorderly person offense|
|New Mexico||Petty misdemeanor or misdemeanor|
|New York||A, B, or unclassified (by crime)|
|North Carolina||A1, 1, 2, or 3|
|North Dakota||A or B|
|Ohio||First, second, third, fourth, or minor|
|Oregon||A, B, C, or unclassified (by crime)|
|Pennsylvania||First, second, or third degree|
|Rhode Island||Misdemeanor (by crime) or petty misdemeanor (by crime)|
|South Carolina||A, B, or C|
|South Dakota||1 or 2|
|Tennessee||A, B, or C|
|Texas||A, B, or C|
|Utah||A, B, or C|
|Virginia||1, 2, 3, or 4, or by crime|
|Washington||Gross misdemeanor or misdemeanor|
|West Virginia||By crime|
|Wisconsin||A, B, or C|