A Guide To Misdemeanor Offenses
There are three main categories of criminal offenses: violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. A misdemeanor falls in the middle; it’s a criminal offense that will show up on your record, but it will not include a lot of the harsh penalties that come with felony convictions.
When people think of crime in general, the first thought usually goes to more severe, violent, felony offenses that you see in the news. However, misdemeanors actually account for over 80% of arrests each year.
Let’s dive into what we need to know about misdemeanors.
Common Misdemeanors in Florida
- Petty theft
- Domestic violence
- Driving under the influence
- Possession of marijuana
Property crime makes up about 85% of all crime in Florida. These are offenses like larceny, burglary, petty theft, and shoplifting.
First- and Second-Degree Misdemeanors
Under the category of misdemeanors, offenses are further divided into two groups: first- or second-degree.
First-degree misdemeanors are considered more serious than second-degree. These are charges like battery, DUI, and prostitution. Second-degree offenses include trespassing or driving on a suspended license.
A common misconception is that first-degree misdemeanors are reserved for violent offenses, and second-degree charges are for nonviolent offenses. This is not the case. Possession of marijuana can warrant first-degree misdemeanor charges.
- Up to one year in jail
- Up to one year of probation
- Fine of up to $1,000
- Up to 60 days in jail
- Up to 6 months of probation
- Fine of up to $500
Misdemeanor or Felony?
The exact same crime never happens twice. Many details are factored into sentencing decisions, such as offender background, location of the crime, severity of the injury, amount of the drug, etc. The list goes on and on. Therefore, determining if a crime is a misdemeanor or felony is highly situational.
State laws also have different guidelines for what would be considered a misdemeanor or felony offense.
Penalties increase significantly if you are charged with a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
There are five categories of felonies in Florida.
Going from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony could result in:
- Up to five years in state prison
- Up to $5,000 in fines
- Restitution payments
Restitution payments are payments made by the defendant to the victim or victim’s family. These payments cover expenses like medical costs, property damage, pain and suffering, etc.
Besides the severity of penalties, there are other factors that differ between misdemeanor and felony offenses.
For a misdemeanor offense, there is no jury trial. The defendant is sentenced by the judge alone.
In a felony case, there is a preliminary hearing. This will involve calling witnesses, showing evidence, and more. If the judge finds there is reason to believe the defendant is guilty, the case will move on to trial. This is also the stage where the defendant’s charges may be reduced to misdemeanors.
The location where the defendant is incarcerated depends on the level of their charge.
A misdemeanor sentence can be served in county jail.
A felony sentence will be served in state or federal prison.
Convicted felons are barred from doing multiple things, even after they are out of prison and have served their time.
Some things felons are unable to do include:
- Serve on a jury
- Hold a position in public office
- Own a firearm
A convicted felon may also lose the right to hold certain jobs or have child custody.
Misdemeanor offenses do not have any restrictions like the ones listed above.
How Long Will A Misdemeanor Be On My Record?
Even though a misdemeanor conviction is not as serious as a felony, you don’t want that mark on your record. A conviction of any criminal offense may suggest to others that you can’t be trusted or are dangerous.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be able to have your file sealed or expunged.
Sealing and Expungement
Sealing is the process of having your record closed to the public. It won’t show up on background checks, but certain government agencies can still access your record.
Expungement takes it a step further and essentially erases your record. All documentation of your case is destroyed. It is the closest you can get to a blank slate.
In both instances, your record will not show up on a basic background check.
The only difference is that with a sealed record, certain jobs requiring a higher-level security clearance can still view your record. This may happen if the job involves working with children or working in law enforcement.
If your record has been expunged, even during more thorough background checks, your record won’t be found.
Eligibility for Expungement
There are specific rules for what types of offenses are eligible for expungement.
In order to qualify for an expungement, you must meet the following criteria:
- You can’t have any prior convictions.
- You must not have had any other records sealed or expunged.
- Expungement is a once in a lifetime option
- You have to have completed your probation.
- Your case must not have reached a guilty verdict.
The last qualifier may surprise you. If you were found guilty and convicted of committing a misdemeanor offense, you cannot have your record expunged. To be eligible, your case must have been dismissed by the judge.
If you were found guilty, you may qualify for a record seal instead.
Miami Criminal Defense
If you are facing misdemeanor charges or considering a record expungement, Hager & Schwartz, P.A. can help.
We handle cases of all types, including:
The legal process is confusing; we can guide you through it. Give us a call today at (305) 330-1360 to get started with one of our Miami misdemeanor attorneys.