A misdemeanor is a criminal charge that is often referred to as a lesser crime meaning that the punishment that follows this crime is generally less severe and shorter than that of a felony. Crimes that could fall under the classification of a misdemeanor include petty theft, prostitution, public intoxication, simple assault, trespassing, vandalism, drug possession, and reckless driving.
There are some crimes that are called "unclassified misdemeanors" which are misdemeanors that lack class specification within the boundaries of a statue. This term is commonly used when a legislator or a prosecutor wants to impose a penalty that falls outside of the "framework."
Less harsh than a felony
As stated before, the punishment delivered for a misdemeanor is less harsh than a felonies repercussion. Generally, a misdemeanor may call for a monetary fine, which is the most common, or incarceration in the local or county jail for no more than one year with up to two years of probation afterward.
Being charged with a criminal misdemeanor does not take away civil rights but it does limit what one can do in society. The collateral consequences that follow being charged with a misdemeanor could include revoking a professional license, losing a public office, or being denied public employment. A misdemeanor can also inhibit the convicted persons ability to obtain specific jobs, to qualify for bonding, and to receive various governmental aid, such as a school loan.
What is a felony?
To fully understand the difference between these two criminal charges, one must know what a felony is and where it falls in the spectrum of the law.
A felony is the most serious crime in any system of criminal law and it can only be charged upon grand jury indictment which is an indictment delivered by the grand jury after carefully examination of evidence regarding the case. Some crimes that could be considered felonies are assault in the first degree or that causes bodily harm, all degrees of murder, rape, and sexual assault, grand theft, kidnapping, embezzlement, serious drug crimes, and racketeering.
Just like a misdemeanor, felons are barred from fully participating in the community through severe restrictions regarding serving on a jury, voting in elections, possessing a firearm, and enlisting in the army. It has been said that in many states the legislature offers a three-strike system when dealing with felonies. This three-strike system basically delivers a life sentence if a convicted felon commits a third felony after being previously charged with two others.
Felony vs. Misdemeanor
The main difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is the incarceration period that could be required after a complete conviction. Under a misdemeanor, the convicted person can be held in the local or county jail for no more than one year while a felony calls for a prison sentence ranging from more than one year to a death sentence. But, under a felony, the felon obtains the right to a court-appointed authority and a trial by jury which are two options that are not always made available to those charged with misdemeanors.
A misdemeanor can have a jury present at the trial but they will have to pay fees for that service (this is a general rule - in some areas a jury trial may be an option for a misdemeanor). Also, various misdemeanors have preset penalties, such as a traffic infraction in which a standard monetary fine needs to be paid; A misdemeanant will also benefit from abbreviated procedures.
Another notable difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is that crimes could be heightened depending on the charge they fall under. For example, an accidental death may be increased to a murder if it occurred while a felony was taking place but if the death happened while a misdemeanor was committed, it could be classified as manslaughter.
Expunging a Misdemeanor
The expunction of a misdemeanor is possible but it does depend on the jurisdiction in the state that the crime was committed in. Across the United States, a certain misdemeanor may be excused in one state while in another it could be kept on the record permanently regardless of the progress the misdemeanant made after completing the required punishment.
For example, a misdemeanor, or any criminal conviction, may not be eligible for expungement if an arrest was not involved, it was not committed while the misdemeanant was a juvenile amongst other guidelines. In states like Arizona, a criminal record is kept until the convicted person turn ninety-nine years old and in New York it could be expunged if the dispute is resolved the favor of the misdemeanant, such as the charges were dropped.
To research what your specific state requires for the expunction of a misdemeanor from a criminal record, visit Expungement Guide.