Not all crimes are committed with malice aforethought. Some might be the result of poor judgment or immaturity. If you have what seems like a minor brush with the law, you’ll probably regret it but you may not be overly concerned if it’s “just” a misdemeanor. In reality, however, there’s no such a thing as a crime without some consequences, and a Class A misdemeanor is more serious than other missteps you might take.
Misdemeanors vs. Felonies
It’s true that misdemeanors are not as serious as felonies -- the most offensive and egregious crimes. But the fact that a charge is a misdemeanor doesn’t tell the whole tale because there are different levels or classes of misdemeanors. A crime at the lower end of the spectrum doesn’t carry the same harsh penalties as one at the top. Additionally, the legal line between a felony and a misdemeanor isn’t always a clear one. An act might qualify as a misdemeanor initially, but end up being charged as a felony because of aggravating factors such as the use of a weapon or if physical harm comes to the victim. The rules are also dependent on each states’ laws -- a crime that’s a Class A misdemeanor in one jurisdiction could be a felony in another.
Classes of Misdemeanors
Most states divide misdemeanors into different categories, usually based on the level of punishment the perpetrator risks, but they don’t all do this in the same way. In some jurisdictions, misdemeanors are Levell 1, 2 or 3. In others, they’re Class A, B or C. A handful of states don’t differentiate at all -- each individual crime is assigned its own range of punishment by statute. A Class A misdemeanor typically equals a Level 1 misdemeanor. Both apply to the most serious offenses in the misdemeanor category, just one step removed from a felony.
Types of Class A Misdemeanors
To further complicate matters, a crime that might be a Class A misdemeanor in Alabama or a Level 1 misdemeanor in Colorado can fall further down the scale elsewhere. Usually, however, the more serious the crime, the more likely it is to fall into one of the top categories. In Arizona, failure to control a dangerous pet is a Level 1 misdemeanor. In Illinois, driving under the influence is a Class A misdemeanor, as is the illegal possession of a firearm. Assault and possession of drugs qualify as Class A misdemeanors in New York. If you’re concerned about what constitutes a Class A or Level 1 misdemeanor in your state, you can often find a definitive list on your state’s legislative website under the penal code.
Penalties and Fines
Being convicted of a Class A misdemeanor can result in both jail time and fines. The good news is that misdemeanor sentences are typically served in county or municipal jails, whereas felony sentences are generally served in state prisons. The bad news is that you could spend from six months to a year in jail for a Class A misdemeanor offense. Fines can range from $2,500 to $10,000 depending on individual state law. Just as with a felony, you’re entitled to a court-appointed attorney if you can’t afford one on your own. If you’re convicted, you’ll have a criminal record.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.