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 a local 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, degrees, or levels, according to the seriousness of the crime. Class A, Level 1, or first-degree misdemeanors tend to represent the most serious misdemeanors in that state. Class B, Level 2, or second-degree misdemeanors are the next serious, and so on.
Legislators group misdemeanors into classes in order to make it easy to assign a punishment. The law assigns a sentence or sentence range for each classification. For every crime, the statute defining the crime states the class that the offense belongs to. For example, a state might specify that Class A misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $3,000 fine. The criminal code may then designate simple assault as a Class A misdemeanor by stating: A person convicted of simple assault is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
Some states don't use levels, classes, or degrees. They may have unique descriptive words or phrases for their misdemeanor classifications, such as "simple," "gross," or "aggravated" misdemeanors. 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 designation, you refer to the statute defining the class, level, or group to learn the sentence.
A few states don't 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.
The majority of states cap misdemeanor penalties at a year in jail. Because Class A represents the most serious misdemeanor penalty, many will carry this maximum one-year jail sentence. A few states impose penalties of more than one year's imprisonment for misdemeanors—for instance, 18 months or 2, 3, or 5 years. Another group of states sets the maximum penalty at 364 days or 11 months and 29 days. The rationale for this one-day deduction is to avoid harsh immigration consequences based on a one-year (or 365-day) sentence.
Lower misdemeanor classes (like Class B and C) might carry maximum jail sentences of 30 days, 60 days, or 6 months. Every state is different. Maximum fine amounts will generally be different too. Fines for Class A misdemeanors tend to range around $1,000 to $2,000, but some states go as high as $10,000 or $15,000.
The actual sentence a person will receive for any misdemeanor will vary by the offense severity, the offender's criminal record, and the injuries sustained by the victim. Repeat offenders who commit a violent misdemeanor (like assault) might see several months of jail time. A first-time offender, on the other hand, might avoid jail time and, instead, receive a sentence of probation or deferred adjudication.
A person who commits a Class A misdemeanor can easily be looking at enhanced felony charges if any of the following circumstances apply:
Even if the prosecutor initially charges the offense as a misdemeanor, they can amend the complaint and bump it up to a felony based on new information that comes in.
Also, some states classify certain crimes as wobblers, meaning they can be charged or sentenced as either a misdemeanor or felony.
Here are some examples of Class A and Level 1 misdemeanors. For more examples in your state, consult the chart below.
Minnesota. In Minnesota, the most serious misdemeanor is a "gross misdemeanor," punishable by up to a year in jail. Examples include stalking, assault of a school official, and a second conviction for domestic assault.
Texas. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to a year in jail. A second conviction for harassment and falsely reporting an emergency are both examples.
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, Missouri, 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|