I recently spoke with a client, who is currently on federal supervised release, after completing his prison term for a drug offense. When I asked him how things were going, he responded that he was working and generally doing well, except that he recently had to go to court. When I asked him about it, he responded, “it’s nothing big, just a little misdemeanor”. I told him that being charged with anything while on supervised release is a big deal – even a misdemeanor. So what is a misdemeanor? A misdemeanor is a less serious criminal offense that is usually punishable by no more than 12 months in jail. Any sentence for a misdemeanor offense is served in a local or county jail, while felony sentences are usually served in prison. Other possible sentences for misdemeanor offenses can include fines, a term of probation, required participation in programming, such as anger management or AA/NA attendance, or a suspension of a driver’s license in traffic cases. Some examples of misdemeanor offenses include: assault, petty theft, trespassing, disorderly conduct and many traffic offenses. A person who is convicted of a misdemeanor offense generally does not lose valuable civil rights, such as the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, or the right to possess a firearm. However, there are some misdemeanor offenses, such as domestic violence and stalking, which can result in the loss of the right to possess a firearm. Although the penalties for a misdemeanor can be small, such as a simple fine, misdemeanor offenses still become part of a permanent criminal record, which can affect a person’s ability to get a job, obtain a loan or obtain certain state licenses. Once a misdemeanor offense is on a person’s record, that person will need to take affirmative steps to have their record sealed or expunged. One additional important consideration is that many misdemeanor offenses contain an “escalator” provision, where a first offense is a misdemeanor, but a second or subsequent offense then becomes a felony. Some examples of those offenses include domestic violence, stalking, and multiple driving under the influence offenses. So be aware that even “little” misdemeanor offenses, should still be taken seriously.
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