What is a Minor Misdemeanor?

Jerry Renshaw

Generally, a minor misdemeanor is considered to be any infraction punishable by less than one year in jail. While some countries have erased the line between felony and minor misdemeanor, the United States (US) still makes the distinction. Jail time for a this type of crime is typically served in the county or city jail rather than a state penitentiary. Judges also can use creative sentencing options for a minor misdemeanor, such as weekends in jail, probation, fines, or community service time.

Theft is considered a misdemeanor.
Theft is considered a misdemeanor.

Minor misdemeanor offenses include drug possession, petty theft, prostitution, simple assault, reckless driving, vandalism, or trespass. Unlike felonies, misdemeanor convictions do not bring a loss of civil rights, such as the right to vote. Minor misdemeanors do, however, bring collateral consequences, such as the loss of a commercial license or loss of public office. Penalties vary widely from one jurisdiction to another.

A minor misdemeanor is punishable to less than one year in jail.
A minor misdemeanor is punishable to less than one year in jail.

The state of Virginia, for instance, breaks misdemeanors down into Class 1 and Class 2, which are punishable by six months or a year in jail, respectively. Virginia's Class 3 and Class 4 misdemeanors are non-jail offenses that are punishable by fines. Many states also have unclassified misdemeanors on their law books with their own schedule of jail time, probation, or fines available to the sentencing judge. US federal law also makes the distinction between felony and misdemeanor, with federal misdemeanors broken down as infractions, class A, class B, or class C, all of which have their own maximums for fines and jail time.

Resisting arrest is typically classified as a class A misdemeanor.
Resisting arrest is typically classified as a class A misdemeanor.

In contrast, felonies are serious crimes, such as burglary, assault and battery, arson, rape, grand theft, or vandalism on federal property. The punishments for felonies generally are much harsher and the felon's collateral consequences can include a prohibition against owning firearms, the loss of voting rights, denial of certain licenses, and the loss of competence to sit on a jury. In some states, a felony conviction is even grounds for an uncontested divorce.

Vandals might be given a minor misdemeanor charge.
Vandals might be given a minor misdemeanor charge.

Other countries, such as Australia and Canada, have redefined misdemeanors and felonies as "summary offenses" and "indictable offenses." The basic framework for defining the crimes and meting out punishment, however, is still fairly similar. For instance, Canada limits jail time for summary offenses to a maximum of six months. Also, summary offenses have a statute of limitations and can proceed without an arrest warrant; indictable offenses have no statute of limitations and involve an arrest warrant signed by a judge.

Prostitution is considered a misdemeanor in some places.
Prostitution is considered a misdemeanor in some places.
Trespassing is a common type of misdemeanor.
Trespassing is a common type of misdemeanor.

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Discussion Comments


If you lie to an insurance company about an insurance claim and then admit to it before any payouts, what criminal charges will be faced in California?


@simrin-- It's true that some crimes can be a felony or misdemeanor. If there is an additional aspect to the crime that makes it more serious, them it could be categorized as a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

For example, if someone is caught with a very small amount of an illegal drug, they will be charged with a misdemeanor. But if they are caught with pounds and pounds of the same drug, they can be charged with a felony instead because of the amount of the substance. The crime is the same but when it's a felony, there are additional characteristics that make it more serious.


@simrin-- About your son's situation, no one will be able to give you legal advice remotely because each situation is very different. And laws in each state is very different. So for personalized legal advice, it's necessary for you to speak to a local lawyer who is familiar with the law there.

As far as I know, misdemeanor charges are added to the criminal record and cannot be erased. In most states however, if not all, you have the option of requesting an "expungement". What this means is that if you meet certain criteria, you can have your record sealed off from public view. It doesn't apply to every single minor misdemeanor, but applies to most. If this misdemeanor is the only criminal offense your son has had, you will most likely qualify for an expungement one year after the incident.

Regardless of whether he gets an expungement or not, if a job application asks if he has a misdemeanor, he has to put it down. He must check "yes" but can note that he wants to explain it in person.


I have several questions about minor misdemeanors. My first question is about how a minor misdemeanor affects an individual's record and to what extent it may affect the decision of employers in the future.

My son (not a minor) recently received a misdemeanor charge for giving his friend, a minor, alcohol at a party. He only paid a fine for it, he was not required to spend time in jail or go to court.

What we're worried about now is his record. He is a really good student with a high grade point average and a scholarship. We have no idea how this misdemeanor will impact his future opportunities for scholarships and employment. Do minor misdemeanors create a problem in this area? Will employers see it in his record?

The other question I have is a general one about the difference between misdemeanors and felonies. I've noticed that some crimes are categorized into both of these charges. Why is that and how can we distinguish between them?

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