Misdemeanor: Definition and Classifications

*****Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and is for educational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client privilege.

What constitutes a crime includes many different things. But part of justice is about being able to consistently identify not only what is a crime, but what kind of crime it is too. Because in order to deal out a just verdict in our punitive justice system, there needs to be a legal framework in place that defines crimes so that we can standardize fair and normal punishments for them. In the US crimes fall into 4 basic categories; felonies, misdemeanors, felony-misdemeanors, and infractions. This blog will focus on defining misdemeanors.

According to CA state law, a misdemeanor is defined as a crime whose maximum sentence is no more than one year long and in the county jail, as opposed to federal or state prison. Because of its maximum sentence making jail time less than a year long, but US law it also makes it so misdemeanors are not a deportable offence. A misdemeanor is a more serious offence than an infraction, but not as serious as a felony. These crimes can still be violent in nature or result, but are overall less grave offences than felonies.

A wide variety of things would fall into the category of misdemeanors. For examples, we have DUIs, petty theft, prostitution, disorderly conduct, trespassing, vandalism, reckless driving, simple assault, indecent exposure or domestic violence incidents not resulting in serious injury. This is not be any means a comprehensive list, but hopefully serves as an example of the wide variety of crimes that fall under this umbrella term.

Misdemeanors fall into two general categories, though there are some that can fall into either classification depending upon the context and what the judge determines is appropriate.

  1. Standard Misdemeanor - these misdemeanors can result in a maximum sentence of up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000

  2. “Gross” or “Aggravated” Misdemeanor - these infractions can result in a sentence of up to 364 days in jail and/or a fine of over $1,000

A “wobbler” case is an offense that can be classified as multiple things, depending on the context. Be it towing the line between misdemeanor and felony or between infraction and misdemeanor.