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What Is a Class A Misdemeanor?

Some misdemeanors are punishable with jail time.
Resisting arrest is typically classified as a class A misdemeanor.
Criminal court building.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 31 July 2014
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A Class A misdemeanor can be a legal means of defining certain crimes in different regions. Misdemeanors are usually thought of as step-down crimes from felonies, but a Class A refers to the most serious misdemeanors in a given jurisdiction. This classification isn’t always used, and some areas use numbers instead of letters to denote how serious an offense is. It is equally vital to consider that whether a misdemeanor is Class A or Class 1, it can be punishable by both fines and jail time.

Giving examples of the Class A misdemeanor is somewhat challenging because of variation in how each region defines crimes. In Illinois, for instance, list of Class A misdemeanors includes endangering a child’s welfare, some forms of assault, engaging in prostitution or soliciting a prostitute, and driving under the influence. In contrast, some states, such as California, don’t class their misdemeanors, and some crimes could either be considered felonies or misdemeanors depending on the degree to which they are serious. These may be known as "wobblers."

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Where the Class A misdemeanor or Class 1 misdemeanor exists, judges may have little or a lot of discrimination in interpreting charges and determining appropriate penalties. It’s possible that sometimes this charge won’t result in jail time, but occasionally a specific type of crime could have a mandatory jail sentence and mandatory minimum fine. While people often think of any misdemeanor as being a less severe crime, it doesn’t mean that committing one of these crimes means a pass when it comes to a trial. Instead, in some regions people could find themselves serving jail time of up to a year and paying fines in the tens of thousands of US Dollars (USD) as a result of committing such a crime.

Those charged with a Class A misdemeanor tend to need legal representation to either defend against the charges or to negotiate plea bargains bringing the charge down to a lesser offense. People facing felony charges may hope for bargaining that results in misdemeanor charges instead, even if the charge is Class A. There can be a very big jump between how a jurisdiction will consider a felony in terms of fines or imprisonment over a misdemeanor.

In either case, though, a person usually has a right to a trial to defend him or herself, but may not always exercise this right. If the misdemeanor results in fines only, the person may simply plead no contest and accept a sentence. With a Class A misdemeanor, where sentencing could result in jail time, this is not always a wise choice, unless there exists little possibility of successfully defending a case.

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Discuss this Article

anon300679
Post 3

In Illinois, a class A misdemeanor also includes criminal trespassing. I should know, because I was caught.

dkarnowski
Post 2

@Ubiquitous, I actually agree with you on the concept of how we treat our nations scheduling of narcotic substances. Cannabis is very grossly mis-categorized on the national level and therefore a confusion for local government and state lawmakers exists. That is why sometimes cannabis use is a Class A Misdemeanor while other times it is a felony charge.

Despite this, I think that the classification of crimes is essential to equal sentencing and delivery of justice to criminal offenders.

By eliminating the subjective nature of a criminal sentence there is a guaranteed level playing field. This ends up fighting any kind of discrimination that can occur even in our just society.

Judges have discretion often when it comes to sentencing a criminal and this can result in unequal distribution of jail time. While in theory our judges and judicial officials have no prejudice there is always an element of humanity that will affect the outcome of a trail and sentencing.

If the judge is personally effected by the crime because their brother was a victim of something similar the a subjective system of crime classification could result in a misguided sentence.

Perhaps a more nationalized sentencing guideline should be setup for criminal courts. This however would be a hard undertaking as some crimes are seen as more vicious and criminal in certain areas then they are in others.

Because of these complications and expectations of unequal distribution of justice, I don't see the classification of misdemeanors and felonies going away anytime soon.

Ubiquitous
Post 1

Sometimes I wonder if these trivial definitions of certain crimes, such as a Class A Misdemeanor, doesn't actually complicate the justice system in it's administration of justice for our society.

Perhaps a more subjective and judgment based classification system should take over the current class system. By doing so we could custom tailor rulings and sentences for guilty individuals based more so on their actual guilt.

It seems that sometimes people are charged with crimes that are vaguely described and categorized by lawmakers in an attempt to appear hard on crime to their constituency.

Sometimes the classification of things like this are not only misguided but downright false and illegal.

A good example of a crime that is often categorized different ways and therefore enforced with unequal justice is our national cannabis laws.

In some states, the use of cannabis is an arrestable offense and jail time is almost certain. Felony charges can be brought depending on the circumstances and the local laws. In other states the use of cannabis is a very simple offense that will often result in a warning or the issue of a either a misdemeanor or infraction ticket.

This inequality leads to misinformation and misunderstanding by the public as to what is legally allowed and accepted.

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