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How Does a Misdemeanor Affect Your Life?

After an arrest, you may wonder how a misdemeanor affects your life. Punishments for these offenses include fines, probation, and community service. A prison sentence of up to 12 months may apply to repeat offenders. A misdemeanor charge may seem like a minor legal inconvenience; however, convictions of such charges may have lasting effects on people’s lives. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies, but more serious than petty misdemeanors.

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Misdemeanor charges or convictions in Minnesota effectively bar you from accessing many opportunities like securing government and private jobs, getting government loans and grants, license applications, and leasing or buying a house. 

Further, you might have trouble getting child custody or possessing firearms. Your charges might get elevated to felony charges if you have previous convictions on your record.

What Is a Misdemeanor? 

Misdemeanors are minor offenses, usually punishable by small fines or short jail time. Severe crimes, however, lead to felony charges that carry steeper fines, penalties, and lengthier jail stints. Felony charges often have lifelong consequences. 

Different misdemeanor crimes have different legal implications. For example, a motorist gets pulled over for driving under the influence, but his or her blood alcohol levels are only slightly above the legal limit. In this scenario, the driver will get slapped with a misdemeanor charge. However, if the same driver had a child in the vehicle, the offense becomes a felony. 

Criminal Offense Categories

The crime category depends on the severity of the offense. The Minnesota criminal system categorizes crimes into three parts: petty misdemeanors, misdemeanors, or felonies. These broad categories can further get broken down into different subclasses or levels.

Petty Misdemeanors

Petty misdemeanors are the least serious offenses. They do not constitute crimes. Rather, they are violations of ordinances, laws, or rules. Typically, the punishment for petty misdemeanors involves small monetary fines. At times, the arresting officers let you off with mere warnings. 

Failing to honor the fines can easily turn a petty offense into a more serious offense. Some examples of petty misdemeanor offenses include speeding tickets, littering, trespassing, and disturbing the peace.

Misdemeanors

Minnesota laws recognize a misdemeanor as a less serious criminal offense. This violation carries more weight than a petty misdemeanor, but is less severe than a felony. 

Misdemeanors are sometimes punishable by jail time of up to 12 months. The jail time, however, applies to criminal defendants with prior convictions in their criminal records. 

Common misdemeanor offenses include:

  • 5th-degree domestic assaults 
  • 4th-degree driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or an intoxicant 
  • Violations of restraining orders
  • Legal obstruction and disorderly conduct
  • Public solicitation of prostitutes
  • 4th-degree property damages

Misdemeanor offenses can further get classified into subclasses or levels. These misdemeanor sub-categories get distinguished by the potential maximum jail times attached to the specific crime. 

Misdemeanors fall into three classes, which include:

Class A or Level 1 Misdemeanor 

Also referred to as gross misdemeanors, Class A misdemeanors in Minnesota carry a prison time of up to 12 months. The convicted defendant must serve at least six months behind bars. 

Class B or Level 2 Misdemeanor

Class B misdemeanors bear a maximum sentence of six months or less. A convicted offender must serve at least thirty days in jail. 

Class C or Level 3 Misdemeanor 

Class C misdemeanor offenses attract up to a month in prison. The offender must serve at least five days in prison. Convicted offenders have the option of doing probation for 12 months or less. Class C misdemeanor violations, like shoplifting, can result in $1,000 fines or up to three months behind bars. 

In some states, however, misdemeanors are loosely defined. As such, the sentence gets assigned according to the state statutes defining the offense.

Felonies

Felonies refer to the most serious criminal offenses. Some states, such as New Jersey and Maine, do not have strict and clearly defined felony crime classifications. The federal government terms a felony as a severe criminal charge carrying potential jail time of more than a year. 

Felony laws in Minnesota and 42 other U.S. states reference the jail time for that offense or the prison designation to define a felony sentence. Sometimes, both concepts apply. For instance, in Georgia, convicted felons face a prison sentence of up to a year, life imprisonment, or death sentence, depending on the seriousness of the offense. 

In most states, felonies are serious crimes punishable by sentences of over a year. The guilty person can serve his or her time in federal or state prisons. Just like other criminal offenses, felonies get broken down into sub-categories based on the potential jail time faced. 

  • Class A felonies: Carry either the death penalty or life imprisonment
  • Class B felonies: Attract sentences of up to 25 years
  • Class C felonies: Result in prison time of up to 25 years
  • Class D felonies: Attract prison time of up to 10 years
  • Class E felonies: Carry sentences of up to one year but less than five years 

Successful felony convictions can result in job loss, jail time, huge fines, and the stigma associated with getting labeled a felon. Common felony-level offenses include arson, rape, burglary, murder, and kidnappings. 

How Does a Misdemeanor Impact Your Life? 

If you are facing a misdemeanor charge, you might ask, “How bad are misdemeanors?” Misdemeanor charges, while not as serious as felonies, can have lasting consequences. 

The ex-convict label stays with you forever, regardless of whether your charges were later dropped, dismissed, or even acquitted. That information is freely available to potential mates, property owners, and schools. It is also a legal requirement for ex-convicts to disclose this information to the public. 

Another reason misdemeanor charges are bad is that prior misdemeanors can quickly turn your misdemeanor into a felony in subsequent cases. Felony charges or convictions are permanently added to your criminal record unless expunged.

Enhancement crimes elevate your misdemeanor charge to an outright felony with severe penalties and longer sentences. If serious aggravating factors apply to your case, the judge will most certainly go beyond the standard sentencing limit for the case. Hiring a felony defense attorney is your best bet at avoiding the harsh penalties from having a previous conviction on your record. 

Certain misdemeanor charges automatically disqualify the defendant from select healthcare industry jobs, especially those involving children and seniors. Many colleges and graduate schools have strict rules against admitting ex-convicts. Further, students with misdemeanor convictions might be ineligible for government student loans and other scholarships. Those challenges force many formerly convicted persons to abandon their college dreams. 

Property owners perform a thorough background check on their tenants. Some states allow property owners to deny tenancy based on your past charges or convictions. Convicted sexual offenders have it the roughest. Very few, if any, property owners can accept a registered sex offender as a tenant, regardless of how long ago the offense happened. 

There is also a stigma surrounding the ex-convict label. Society shuns these returning inmates. Many ex-convicts fail to reintegrate back into communities. That leads to drug abuse and other undesirable behaviors. Most of them end up back in jail sooner or later. 

An attorney with a reputation of successfully defending criminal defendants facing misdemeanor charges can investigate the alleged offense and build a robust misdemeanor criminal defense on your behalf. The attorney’s input helps to reduce criminal charges and potential penalties or avoid them altogether. Also, the lawyer can help you navigate the steps of getting your conviction and other records related to the crime expunged from your criminal record. 

Will a Misdemeanor Stay on Your Record Forever?

In states like California and Texas, criminal records get automatically expunged after seven years. In other states, like Minnesota, these records appear on your background checks forever. However, in all states, you can request expungement of your misdemeanor charges or convictions from your criminal record.

Your criminal record clearance request can be honored or denied. The final decision depends on several considerations. For instance, if the charges or conviction happened many years back, and you have maintained a clean criminal record since then, you may qualify for clearance. Alternatively, it is possible to have these damning files retracted if your misdemeanor or felony charges later got dropped, or you were acquitted. 

Serious crimes, like murder or armed robbery, are nearly impossible to erase from the criminal record. A Minneapolis expungement attorney can obtain all the necessary documentation and review laws affecting your case to determine if you are eligible for expungement.

An attorney can formulate a specific reason for requiring an expungement and initiate a petition for expungement with the court that heard your case. The attorney can then argue your case in a way that will convince a judge to grant you an expungement, especially if some parties are objecting to the petition. Taking this step may help overcome the impact of a misdemeanor on your life.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

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