What is a Misdemeanor?

What is a Misdemeanor?

If you've ever asked the question, "What is a misdemeanor, and how is it different from a felony?" you're not alone. The two are easily confused, especially because the precise definition varies from state to state. The easiest way to define the difference is this:

A misdemeanor crime is a minor offense and generally requires no more than a fine, a year in prison, community service, or probation. A felony is a more serious crime with accordingly ramped-up consequences (think murder or forgery/counterfeit).

It is much easier to avoid jail time with misdemeanor crimes than with felony convictions. It is estimated that as many as 10 million misdemeanor cases are filed every year in the US, compared to only one million felonies.

What Are Considered Misdemeanor Crimes?

Common misdemeanor crimes in the United States include:

  • DUI
  • Possession of a controlled substance (i.e. drugs)
  • Burglary and property theft
  • Perjury (i.e. lying under oath)
  • Unlawful possession of a weapon
  • Resisting arrest
  • Violating a restraining order

Misdemeanor crimes can easily escalate into felonies. For example, threatening to assault someone would be considered a misdemeanor, but actually committing the assault (especially with an illegal weapon) would be a felony.

Misdemeanor crimes can definitely show up on background checks, as they stay on a person's criminal record indefinitely. However, whether or not they will is another question. If a misdemeanors is prosecuted locally, and a background check is only done on a state or federal level, the misdemeanor charge likely won't show up. What's more, even if an employer runs a local background check, the misdemeanor won't show up if it was prosecuted in a different county.

So, What Exactly Is a Misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is a minor offense that the government punishes with fines, probation, community services, or up to a year in prison. While there are some differences between states on what exactly is considered a misdemeanor, the level of punishment is a good indication of whether or not that state considers the crime a misdemeanor or a felony.

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