What is a Misdemeanor Violation?

Felicia Dye

A misdemeanor violation is often referred to as a lesser crime, meaning it is not as serious as many other criminal offenses. Some of these crimes allow the accused to handle the matters without going to court. If a person does go to court for a misdemeanor violation, she may face consequences, which can include fines, restitution, and incarceration. These are generally limited by the law.

Public drunkenness may be considered a misdemeanor.
Public drunkenness may be considered a misdemeanor.

In many jurisdictions, there are two major categories offenses. Those that are viewed as being very serious are referred to as felonies and those that are viewed as minor, or lesser crimes, are referred to as misdemeanors. What is considered a misdemeanor violation can vary from one place to another. Common examples include public drunkenness, disturbing the peace, and petty theft.

Driving while intoxicated is considered a misdemeanor.
Driving while intoxicated is considered a misdemeanor.

Such offenses are usually considered lesser crimes because they do not involve substantial damage or risk of harm to individuals or public and private property. There are some instances when an offense that is viewed as a misdemeanor in one jurisdiction may be a felony in another. Possession of marijuana is a prime example of this type of inconsistency.

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

Depending on the offense, a misdemeanor violation can often be handled without going to court. Some of these crimes simply require a person to pay a fine if she does not want to object to the charge. People who decide or who are required to go to court, often do so without legal representation. They are still granted many of the same rights as those who are charged with more serious offenses. For example, they usually have the right to hear the charges against them, to face their accusers, and to protect themselves against self-incrimination.

Vandalism can result in a misdemeanor.
Vandalism can result in a misdemeanor.

There are usually limits outlined regarding the penalties that can be prescribed for this category of offenses. A person convicted of a misdemeanor violation generally cannot be sentenced to incarceration for periods beyond that set by the jurisdiction's legislature. This is often drastically shorter than sentences that can be issued for felonies.

In some jurisdictions, misdemeanors are divided into classes that designate the severity of the offense. Some of these crimes may prohibit the issuing of any jail sentences. The amount of fines which can be charged for a misdemeanor violation is also generally limited. There are, however, a number of consequences that can be ordered in addition to these, such as community service, restitution, and mandatory treatment programs.

A person who goes to court for a misdemeanor violation may face incarceration.
A person who goes to court for a misdemeanor violation may face incarceration.

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Discussion Comments


@allenJo - I don’t think marijuana should be legal, but I do agree that we need consistency in our laws. Otherwise people could simply cross the border from one state to the next to avoid felony prosecution.


@indemnifyme - I agree. My concern is about marijuana being a misdemeanor charge in some states and a felony in others. I think it’s time we put the whole issue to rest; either make marijuana possession legal or make our laws consistent.

I know that in California mere possession is a misdemeanor but possession with intent to sell is a felony. That makes sense to me, and should be the same in all the states.

Some people think that we should completely legalize medical marijuana because the drug has been shown to have medical benefits. I think I could subscribe to that too.

Even if it’s not legal, I think anyone in any state who uses it for medicinal purposes should be either exonerated or considered to be guilty of a misdemeanor, but no more.


@miriam98 - Actually I see some point to escalating the traffic violation to a court offense.

People often ask the question, is a traffic violation a misdemeanor? It actually depends on the nature of offense. If it’s something like forgetting to wear your seatbelt then it’s not. But if it’s a speeding ticket it could be considered reckless driving; that could be considered a misdemeanor in some places, and if you injured someone else it could escalate to a felony violation.

I see no point in dispensing with the court appearance in the case of an accident.


@Azuza - I completely agree. A misdemeanor traffic violation should just be punishable by a fine, with nothing more to be done.

It’s a complete waste of resources to insist on a court appearance before the judge and the police officer. You usually don’t get anywhere from what I hear anyway.

If you go to court, it’s your word against the police officer’s. Who do you think the judge is going to believe? The odds are stacked against you.

If you lose in court, you also have to pay court fees, in addition to the original fine. I believe the court option should just be eliminated. I think it’s there because some people may not have money to pay the fine, but if they don’t, they certainly won’t have money to pay the court fees.


@indemnifyme - Good point. Although, I don't feel too sympathetic to the hypothetical felon in your scenario. They still committed a crime either way.

That said, I personally think that a lot of misdemeanors should just be punishable with a fine and not even go to court. We waste time and resources prosecuting people for stuff like public drunkenness and possession of a small amount of marijuana. Instead we should be pursuing and punishing the real criminals who actually hurt people.


I really think there should be more consistency in the United States as to what is considered a misdemeanor and what is considered a felony.

Being convicted of a felony can have serious consequences on a persons future life and employment. Many employers will not hire someone who has been convicted of a felony, and I understand that.

However, what if the felony the person was convicted of is only a misdemeanor in that particular jurisdiction? It doesn't seem fair for the person to be penalized for committing a felony when it could have been a misdemeanor in another location.

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