In the state of New York, a misdemeanor is any crime that carries a potential sentence of incarceration for more than 15 days but no more than 364 days. Most misdemeanors are categorized as class A (the more serious misdemeanors) or class B. Offenses that carry potential penalties of 15 days or less in jail (or only a fine) are considered violations rather than crimes. And any crime that’s punishable by imprisonment for more than a year is considered a felony in New York, as in most states. (N.Y. Penal Law §§ 10.0, 55.10, 70.15 (2019).)
One Year in Jail for a Misdemeanor Means 364 Days in New York
In 2019, New York changed the maximum incarceration for a misdemeanor from one year to 364 days, even when any other law mentions a sentence of “one year” or “365 days.” When it passed the law, the legislature explained that it was intended to protect immigrants from arbitrary deportation based on a conviction for a crime with a potential one-year sentence, regardless of the actual sentence they received or their individual circumstances. The law applies retroactively, meaning that any one-year sentence imposed before its effective date (April 12, 2019) will be legally considered to be a sentence of 364 days, and defendants may get get a certificate of conviction from the criminal court that reflects that change. (N.Y. Penal Law § 70.15(1-a) (2019).)
After a misdemeanor conviction, the judge may sentence the defendant to some combination of incarceration, probation, and/or a fine. The judge may also include restitution or reparation as part of the sentence.
Sentences of imprisonment or fines must be for a definite (fixed) period of time or amount, within the limits set out for the different classes of misdemeanors:
Some misdemeanors (such as those in the state’s vehicle and traffic laws) are unclassified. When that’s the case, the specific law or ordinance will generally state the potential penalties. (N.Y. Penal Law §§ 60.01, 60.27, 70.13, 80.05 (2019).)
A defendant may be sentenced to probation if the judge believes incarceration isn’t necessary for public protection, but the defendant needs the kind of help that probation supervision can provide. New York law also sets out the allowable probation terms for misdemeanors, including:
(N.Y. Penal Law § 65.00 (2019).)
Here is a small sample of misdemeanors under New York law, by their classification.
Examples of the most serious types of misdemeanors include:
(N.Y. Penal Law §§ 120.00, 130.52, 145.60 155.25, 156.06 (2019).)
Less-serious (class B) misdemeanors include:
(N.Y. Penal Law §§ 120.45, 240.25, 240.36, 245.00, 270.00 (2019).)
Some common unclassified misdemeanors (and the accompanying potential penalties for first offenses) include:
(N.Y. Veh. & Traf. Law §§ 511, 1192, 1193, 1212 ,1801 (2019).)
If you’re facing misdemeanor charges in New York, it’s important that you speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Only an experienced criminal defense lawyer who knows the prosecutors and judges in your local area can realistically assess your case and give you advice about what to do. If you speak to investigators or make any decision about your case without first consulting an attorney, you could potentially damage your ability to defend yourself against any charges.
Look Out for Changes in the Law
New York may change its laws any time, but you can always find the current version of any statute discussed in this article by searching the New York Legislature's website. Court decisions might also affect how New York’s laws are interpreted and applies, which is another reason you should consult a lawyer if you’re worried about actual or potential criminal charges.