Crimes are separated into two distinct categories: misdemeanors and felonies. While the most serious crimes, such as murder, fall under the category of felony, less serious crimes punishable by little or no jail time are misdemeanors, with first degree misdemeanors being the most serious. (Ref 1, 5)
Generally, misdemeanors are crimes that carry a penalty of up to one year in jail. (Ref 1, 2) A few examples include driving under the influence (Ref 1, 2), petty theft (Ref 3, 4) and indecent exposure (2, 4).
Misdemeanor crimes are further distinguished by degrees, or classes, with the first degree reserved for the most serious misdemeanors. For example, Florida separates its misdemeanors into only two classes - first degree and second degree. (Ref 2). Crimes such as animal cruelty, battery and stalking are first degree misdemeanors in Florida. (Ref 8) In contrast, Ohio has six misdemeanor categories, with first degree misdemeanors reserved for such crimes as domestic violence and driving under the influence. (Ref 3, 6, 8)
Punishment for a misdemeanor is based on its degree, or class, level, with the penalty being greatest for first degree misdemeanors. For example, Texas' Class A misdemeanors (equivalent to first degree), such as burglary and stalking with injury, carry a fine up to $4,000 and up to one year in jail. (Ref 7, 8) Ohio's first degree misdemeanors, such as filing a false child abuse or neglect report, carries a punishment of up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. (Ref 3)