What Is a 3rd Degree Misdemeanor?

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A third-degree misdemeanor, known in some states as a Class 3 or Class C misdemeanor, is the least serious type of criminal offense. In most states, conviction of a Class 3 misdemeanor results in a fine of a few hundred dollars, community service or no more than a few weeks in a county jail.

Most states and the federal criminal code divide crimes into two categories: misdemeanors and felonies.

Felonies are the most serious types of criminal offenses and typically result in stiff fines and/or prison time. Misdemeanors are less serious offenses which result in a sentence of 12 months or less, and the prisoner gets to serve time in a county jail and not a state prison. In most states, misdemeanors are broken down further into levels based on the severity of the offense.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

A 3rd degree misdemeanor is the least severe type of misdemeanor. This category encompasses a range of different crimes and carries the lowest level of criminal penalties.

Three Degrees of Misdemeanor

States that rank misdemeanors according to the severity of the offense – and not all of them do – typically use a numerical or alphabetical ranking system. First Degree, Class 1 or Class A offenses (which are different names for the same thing) are the most serious misdemeanor crimes which carry the heaviest penalties. Third Degree, Class 3 or Class C offenses are the least serious misdemeanor crimes. Grouping offenses by category makes it easier to understand the maximum punishment for any particular crime, since each category will have its own sentencing guidelines and punishment range.

Sample List of Third-Degree Misdemeanors

While every state has its own list of third-degree misdemeanors, it’s worth looking at a couple of examples to get a feel for the type of offenses that fall into this category. In North Carolina, for example, the following offenses are all Class 3:

  • Shoplifting.
  • Possession of marijuana (personal use; less than 1/2 ounce).
  • 2nd Degree Trespassing.
  • Violating city and county ordinance.

In Texas, some of the most common Class C misdemeanors include:

  • Gambling.
  • Public intoxication.
  • Writing a bad check for less than $20.
  • Leaving a child in a car.
  • Minor in possession of alcohol.
  • Possession of drug-related paraphernalia.

What these offenses have in common is that they’re all low-level crimes and disorderly conduct offenses, and they’re often without a victim. Crimes such as burglary, assault or harassment (which have a clear victim) tend to appear much higher up the offense hierarchy. Crimes that include physical harm or violence usually fall under Class 1 in most states.

What’s the Penalty for Third Degree Misdemeanors?

The penalty depends on the state, but the offender will never be looking at more than a few months in jail. A Class 3 misdemeanor in Colorado, for example, carries a fine of up to $750 and up to six months in county jail. By contrast, conviction for a Class 2 misdemeanor in the state could result in a $1,000 fine and up to one year’s jail time.

In North Carolina, the maximum punishment for a Class 3 misdemeanor is just 20 days in jail and a $200 fine. In Texas, Class 3 offenses do not require any jail time at all. The most a convicted person will get is a fine up to $500 and community service. The conviction will show up on a criminal records check, however, and could result in disqualification from receiving federal educational aid, so a conviction is not without consequence.

Do All States Use Misdemeanor Categories?

No. While most states use the 1, 2, 3 (or A, B, C) system to categorize misdemeanors, other states, including California, assign a specific sentence to every single misdemeanor crime. In those states, an offender and the offender's lawyer would have to look up the specific crime in the statute books to learn the penalty for that offense.

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About the Author

Jayne Thompson earned an LL.B. in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “Big Law” firms before launching a career as a commercial writer. Her work has appeared on numerous legal blogs including Quittance, Upcounsel and Medical Negligence Experts.