What Are Misdemeanor Classifications? What Are the Penalties?
As a general rule, most criminal acts are identified as either misdemeanors or felonies (some lesser offenses may be characterized as “infractions”). Misdemeanors are typically further categorized based on severity, with many states, including Texas, labeling them Class A, Class B, and Class C misdemeanors. Instead of letter classifications, some states classify misdemeanors as Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3. In other states, misdemeanors are classified with terms such as “high misdemeanor,” “petty misdemeanor,” “simple misdemeanor,” or “gross misdemeanor.” Still other states use no classifications. Consult the law of your state to determine the exact terminology used in your jurisdiction.
The purpose of classifying misdemeanors is to establish certain punishments that fit the crime. For example, in a state that uses Classes A, B, and C, a Class C misdemeanor might be punishable by no more than 90 days in jail, whereas a Class B misdemeanor might max out at 180 days and a Class A misdemeanor might result in a full year of jail time.
What Is a Misdemeanor?
As a general rule, criminal acts are violations of statutes, written laws enacted by local, state, or federal legislative bodies. Typically, a criminal statute identifies a particular offense as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The determination of whether a crime is categorized as a misdemeanor or felony is almost always based on the penalties associated with conviction:
- A misdemeanor is any crime for which the potential fine is less than a specified dollar amount (which varies from state to state and crime to crime) and for which the potential term of incarceration is less than a specified period of time, usually one year.
- A felony is any crime where the term of incarceration exceeds that of a misdemeanor or where the potential fine is greater.
- Incarceration for a misdemeanor is typically served in a city or county jail, whereas a felony sentence is typically served in a state or federal prison.
What Is a Class C Misdemeanor?
Class C misdemeanors are usually the least serious of all misdemeanor charges, often with no jail time required and minimal or nominal fines. Because a misdemeanor is a criminal charge, the elements that must be shown in any criminal prosecution must be proved in a Class C misdemeanor case:
- The prosecutor must demonstrate mens rea, or “guilty mind,” which requires showing that the defendant had the necessary criminal purpose. Most criminal acts require intent. A person can rarely be charged with a crime for simply being negligent or careless. Intent or knowledge is usually necessary.
- The prosecutor must show that there was a guilty act, or actus reus. A person cannot be held criminally liable for merely thinking about engaging in criminal activity; they must commit some physical act in furtherance of the crime.
- The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had criminal intent and committed the criminal act.
What Are Common Examples of Class C Misdemeanors?
Though there are differences from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, Class C misdemeanors typically include:
- Most traffic violations, including speeding, failure to use due caution, illegal lane changing, and failure to stop at a traffic light or sign
- Petty larceny, typically defined as theft of goods under a certain monetary value
- Minor drug offenses, such as possession of drug paraphernalia or small quantities of certain controlled substances
- Certain crimes committed by minors, such as DUI/DWI or possession of alcohol or tobacco
- Disorderly conduct or public drunkenness
Should You Challenge a Class C Misdemeanor?
You may consider it unnecessary or a waste of time and money to challenge a Class C misdemeanor, particularly if there’s no potential jail time involved. However, conviction of a Class C misdemeanor can have a detrimental impact on many areas of your life. For example, a potential employer may run a criminal record check and see the offense. Conviction of certain traffic offenses can lead to significant increases in insurance premiums or even the loss of driving privileges. You should always consult an attorney before you agree to pay any type of traffic fine.