Misdemeanor Jail Time

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Over 80% of the cases filed in the U.S. criminal justice system are misdemeanor cases. Every year, at least 13 million Americans are charged with such offenses.

But what is a misdemeanor, and when does a misdemeanor case involve jail time? What offenses classify as misdemeanors?

This article discusses misdemeanors and how the law determines whether a violation is one. This article also gives an overview of state policies regarding misdemeanors and how the law treats this offense.

The law aims to provide fair and proportional penalties for the crimes committed. For this reason, there are tiers in the criminal offense severity and its corresponding punishments. One of the less severe types of criminal charges is a misdemeanor.

Although misdemeanors can be classified as minor or lesser crimes, they will still go on your record. 

Suppose someone does a background check on you as a requirement for a job application or purchase of a firearm. Your record will show whatever offenses you have been charged with, including misdemeanors.

There are legal remedies to clearing your criminal records, especially minor offenses. However, it’s best to contact a criminal defense lawyer to guide you in the expungement process.

You can get a hold of copies of your criminal records through a public records locator like LookUpInmate.org. You can review its database of more than 7,000 correctional institutions in the United States. 

You’ve Been Charged With a Misdemeanor – A Brief Guide to What Happens

You can experience five different consequences when you get charged for offenses like a misdemeanor:

  1. You’ll get arrested and spend time in a county jail.
  2. You’ll get fined.
  3. You’ll receive a probation sentence.
  4. You’ll lose some rights or privileges.
  5. You’ll get a criminal record on your file.

What Is a Misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is an offense under criminal law. It’s a crime punishable by less than one year or twelve months of jail time

A misdemeanor charge can lead to different punishments depending on the gravity of the situation. Punishment can be community service as part of a probation sentence, paying fines or penalties, or spending time in jail. 

You can classify a misdemeanor as any of the following classes:

  • Class A: The prescribed punishment requires the convicted to spend a minimum of more than six months to one year in jail.
  • Class B: The prescribed punishment requires the convicted to spend a minimum of more than one month up to six months in jail.
  • Class C: The prescribed punishment requires the convicted to spend a minimum of more than five days to not more than 30 days in jail.

Misdemeanor or Felony: “Wobbler” Offenses in U.S.

If you’re being charged with a misdemeanor, you can also be under a class of crime called a “wobbler.” 

Wobblers can be punishable as a misdemeanor or a felony. For this reason, they’re often called alternative felonies or misdemeanors. Wobblers can be punishable by serving time in state prison or county jail, a fine, or both.

Once the court finds you guilty, it will ultimately decide whether you’re going to a state or country jail, paying a fine or penalty, or serving probation and doing community service work.

Prosecutorial Discretion and Overcharging

When you’re charged with a wobbler, the prosecution can decide whether to file a misdemeanor charge or a felony charge which is far more severe. However, there are cases where prosecutors overcharge to pressure defendants into pleading guilty plea to a lower sentence.

What Is the Most Common Misdemeanor?

Here are examples of common misdemeanors in the United States:

  • Drunk driving
  • Minor drug offenses like possession
  • Minor or simple assault or battery
  • Petty theft, like shoplifting
  • Vandalism
  • Minor sex crimes like indecent exposure and prostitution or solicitation
  • Cybercrimes
  • Resisting arrest

Misdemeanor Classifications

Aside from the three misdemeanor classes mentioned above, you can also group or classify misdemeanors into two types: simple misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors

Simple Misdemeanor Charges

A simple misdemeanor is a light type of misdemeanor offense, punishable by 90 days maximum incarceration in a city or county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. 

Judges can impose either jail time, a fine, or a combination of both. The fines and penalties may vary depending on the judge’s discretion and the state laws

Gross Misdemeanor Charges

A gross misdemeanor offense is more severe than a simple one but is less severe than a felony.

Examples of gross misdemeanors are reckless driving, 4th-degree domestic assault, and 3rd-degree theft. 

Some states may include more crimes under gross misdemeanors. For example, in Washington, a DUI (driving under the influence) will lead to a misdemeanor charge instead of a felony if it’s a first-time offense. 

Penalties for gross misdemeanors are jail time of up to 364 days, a fine not exceeding $5,000, or both. 

Penalties are harsher for those with a criminal record. However, a judge can’t give a punishment less than the minimum mandatory sentence.

There are mandatory penalties for certain gross misdemeanor crimes, which a judge can’t alter. Examples of gross misdemeanors with mandatories are domestic violence crimes and multiple DUI offense convictions.  

What Is the Lowest Misdemeanor?

Many states consider class C or level three misdemeanor as the lowest type. 

Suppose you get a conviction with a class C misdemeanor. In that case, you’ll most likely get jail time of no less than five days and no more than one month. The sentence length depends on the judge’s discretion and the state law.  

Can a Drug Crime Be a Misdemeanor?

In Washington, the possession of marijuana of less than one ounce is legal for adults. 

However, possessing more than one ounce but less than 40 grams can be considered a simple misdemeanor. You can get a maximum of one year of jail time and a maximum of $1,000 in fines. 

Penalties for marijuana possession may differ in other states. 

States That Classify Misdemeanors by Class or Level

Here are the following states that classify misdemeanors by class or level: 

  • Alabama
  • Alaska 
  • Arizona 
  • Arkansas 
  • Colorado 
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin

States That Classify Misdemeanors by Unique Terms

Some states classify misdemeanors by severity and not levels. Examples of these states are the following: 

  • Georgia: The state has a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature charge.
  • Hawaii: The state has “misdemeanor” and “petty misdemeanor.”
  • Iowa:  The state classifies misdemeanors as “simple,” “serious,” or “aggravated.”
  • Minnesota: The state has these classifications: “gross misdemeanor,” “misdemeanor,” or “petty misdemeanor.”
  • Nevada: Misdemeanors in this state can be “gross misdemeanor” or “misdemeanor.”

50-State Penalty Analysis

When you analyze how all 50 states treat misdemeanors, you’ll find the following key points:

  • States agree that misdemeanors, in general, are less serious or severe criminal offenses than felonies, yet above violations or infractions that’s punishable with fines.
  • States agree that the court’s discretion is vital in determining the penalty for misdemeanors.
  • Generally, misdemeanors result in incarcerations in jails rather than prisons. Jails are intended to house individuals with relatively short jail terms.
  • The most common misdemeanor-felony penalty is one year.
  • There are 24 states where the maximum penalty for a misdemeanor is jail time not exceeding one year.
  • In Colorado, a misdemeanor charge results in a maximum sentence of 18 months incarceration. In Pennsylvania, a first-degree misdemeanor charge results in incarceration of up to five years in state prison.
  • States differ in classifying misdemeanors and their prison terms and maximum fines.

50-State Chart

You can get further information about each state’s misdemeanor classification, jail terms, and fines by referring to the chart provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

Do First-Time Misdemeanor Offenders in the U.S. Go to Jail?

States may differ in their treatment of first-time misdemeanor offenders depending on the severity of the criminal charges. Some states may provide lenient punishments like probation, while others will impose jail terms. You must remember that misdemeanors, though lighter than felonies, are still crimes. 

What Penalties Could You Face if You’re Convicted of a Misdemeanor?

Like in most states, the penalties for a misdemeanor conviction depend on the severity, class, or level of the misdemeanor committed. These criminal offenses may lead to fines and jail or prison sentences

Probation as an Alternative to Doing Time in Jail for a Misdemeanor

In most cases, jail time may be the least of your concerns if you’re a first-time misdemeanor offender of a nonviolent charge. In states like California, first-time offenders of nonviolent crimes have alternative sentences like probation.

What Is Misdemeanor Probation?

A misdemeanor probation is an alternative sentence where you spend time under court supervision instead of being detained in jail. However, while under supervision, offenders must meet certain conditions, such as:

  • Obey all laws
  • Submit to counseling
  • Pay restitutions
  • Participate in community services 

Violation of these conditions will result in a revocation of probation, which will put you in jail. The typical length of probation depends on the court and the state, but in most cases, the maximum length lasts up to one year. 

Take Probation Seriously

There’s no doubt that probation is preferable to serving time in jail, but complying with its terms and conditions can be challenging. 

If you’re under probation, you should take this alternative sentence seriously. You must comply with every term the judge indicates because failing to do so may land you in jail. 

Consequences Later in Life

Despite being less severe than a felony, a misdemeanor charge is a criminal record that remains after your release. 

Anyone conducting a background check on you will see these records, which can affect your chances of landing jobs, especially with companies sensitive to employee backgrounds. 

Can a Misdemeanor Result in a Fine?

A misdemeanor can result in a fine, depending on the judge’s decision in a particular state.

Fines may reach up to $1,000 depending on the type, misdemeanor class, or degree. 

Can You Lose Your Gun Rights With a Misdemeanor Conviction?

There are cases where conviction of a domestic violence charge may result in losing your gun ownership rights. It boils down to the facts of your case if those factors are enough to convince the judge to deny your U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment rights. 

Are There Negative Employment Consequences With Misdemeanors

A criminal record is one of the lasting consequences of a misdemeanor conviction. A past criminal case can result in an employer not hiring you or denial of professional licenses or admission into a college or vocational school. 

Penalties Vary

Punishment for misdemeanor cases depends on the severity of the case and how aggressive the prosecution is. Penalties also vary depending on the state’s law and the judge’s decision. One case may lead to fines, while another may result in a jail sentence.

Alternatives to Jail

Probation is one of the most used alternatives to jail or prison terms. However, you can also pay a fine, do community service, or pay restitution (compensation for damages) to the victim. 

However, if the offense is severe, a judge can impose fines and jail time, especially with high degrees of misdemeanor bordering on a felony offense

Avoiding Jail and a Record Through Diversion

Diversion is commonly available for first-time offenders, not offenders with a previous criminal history.

In some nonviolent misdemeanors, the defendant may be eligible for a pretrial diversion. The defendant can plead guilty to the corresponding offense resulting in the court suspending the trial and sentencing the defendant to undergo a program they need to complete. 

After the defendant completes all the conditions, the court can expunge the arrest and dismiss the case. 

Citation in Lieu of Arrest

In some cases of minor or simple misdemeanors, law enforcement will give a citation instead of making an arrest. 

The citation requires the defendant to pay a fine or appear in court. These citations are only given during less severe instances where the person in question doesn’t have an outstanding warrant, is not intoxicated, and is nonviolent. 

Expunging a Misdemeanor From Your Record

Depending on your state, you can request an expungement of your criminal record. Expungement can remove or limit people’s access to your criminal record. 

Do Misdemeanors in the U.S. Go Away?

Generally speaking, your misdemeanor record doesn’t go away. It will remain in your criminal record. Still, you can petition the court to have your record expunged

How Can You Reduce the Sentence?

There are instances when a felony charge is reduced to a misdemeanor. In most states, there are four ways to do so:

  1. You can accept a plea bargain in exchange for a lesser offense.
  2. You can complete a pretrial divisions program, usually given for DUI felony cases.
  3. You can attend a felony probation program.
  4. You can show that the felony charges you received have no factual supporting circumstances.

Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Help?

It makes a massive difference if those in your legal team are experts in a particular field applicable to your case. A criminal defense attorney can help you defend yourself against a misdemeanor charge. Some law firms provide free consultation services. 

Talk to a Lawyer

You can contact a lawyer and get legal advice. An expert in criminal law can walk you through the different aspects of the criminal justice system. 

These experts can help you understand what to expect after a misdemeanor or felony conviction and what to do while in a district court trial. They can also help you learn the legal terminologies you might hear in court. 

You’ll also need a reliable site to access your criminal records. You can visit LookUpInmate.org and use its online criminal records finder to help you and your lawyer build up a case to lessen your sentence or get an acquittal. 


1. Misdemeanor
2. Wobbler
3. Misdemeanor Sentencing Trends
4. Second Amendment: Right to Bear Arms

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