What Is a Misdemeanor?

Man in handcuffs

If you’re facing criminal charges in Michigan, the crime is classified as a felony, a misdemeanor, or an infraction. The difference between a felony, a misdemeanor, and infraction is largely in how severely the crime is punished, and the extent to which a conviction will affect your future.

Michigan crimes are divided even further into different classes. Michigan recognizes three different classifications of misdemeanors, with varying degrees of punishment for each level.

Even though misdemeanors are not the most serious crime a person can be charged with, a misdemeanor conviction can carry serious penalties and have a long-lasting effect on your future.

If you have been charged with a misdemeanor in Michigan, you should contact an experienced Michigan criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible.

What Is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

Crimes are classified into three broad categories: felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions.

A felony is the most severe type of criminal offense and, in Michigan, is defined as “an offense for which the offender...may be punished by death, or by imprisonment in state prison.” If you are convicted of a felony and are sentenced to prison time, your sentence will be served in a higher security prison, as opposed to a local jail.

A misdemeanor is less serious than a felony. Misdemeanors are violations of state laws or local ordinances that are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to two years of incarceration in a county jail. In Michigan, any prohibition that does not involve a specific penalty is treated as a misdemeanor. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor and are required to serve time in jail, you will be placed in a local county jail, not a higher security prison.

An infraction is the least serious type of crime. It involves violation of a local rule or ordinance. There is no jail time associated with conviction for an infraction, and your conviction will not appear on your criminal record. Usually, the only punishment associated with an infraction is payment of a fine. A traffic ticket is a common example of an infraction. Infractions are often divided into categories, such as a moving infraction versus a non-moving infraction.

Misdemeanors are more serious than infractions, but less serious than felonies. Misdemeanors are then further classified based on their level of severity.

Classifications of Misdemeanors

Michigan divides misdemeanor crimes into three classes: high court misdemeanors, which are punishable by up to two years in prison; misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail; and misdemeanors punishable by up to 93 days in jail.

High Court Misdemeanors

High court misdemeanors are unusual in that they are a hybrid crime. They are handled in the same way as a felony, but they are called misdemeanors and are often prosecuted more leniently than felonies.

One-Year Misdemeanors

One-year misdemeanors are criminal offenses that are punishable by up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000, plus court costs. One-year misdemeanors are almost always violations of state laws, and are handled by county prosecutors whose full-time job is to prosecute criminal cases. These attorneys are government employees who may never have represented a person who is accused of a crime. Their client is the government.

93-Day Misdemeanors

Crimes that violate local ordinances are often charged as a 93-day misdemeanor. These are crimes that are punishable by up to 93 days in jail, and up to $500 in fines.

93-day misdemeanor crimes are usually prosecuted by a City or Township attorney who, in most places, is a private practitioner who submitted a bid to handle the city’s legal work. The law firm may handle civil lawsuits and zoning cases in addition to violations of local ordinances.

One benefit to being charged with a 93-day misdemeanor is that the lawyers who prosecute these cases are often private practitioners who understand the relationship between a defense lawyer and his client. They often represent criminal defendants in other jurisdictions, and know what it’s like to represent someone who has been accused of a crime.

Penalties Vary Based on the Law You Violated

Some crimes can be charged as either a violation of a local ordinance or a violation of a state law. Unfortunately, in some situations the punishments are different depending on which law the crime is prosecuted under. For example, if you are pulled over by a State Trooper and charged with possession of marijuana, you will be charged for a violation of a state law. State Troopers enforce state laws, not local ordinances. But if you committed the same offense and were pulled over by a city police officer, you could be charged with violation of a local ordinance as a 93-day misdemeanor.

In some cases, such as for particularly egregious OWI or if you have been previously convicted of a crime, the charge against you can be increased from a misdemeanor to a felony. In the same way, if you have been charged with a felony, an experienced criminal defense attorney can work to have the charges against you reduced to a misdemeanor.

What Are Punishments for a Misdemeanor Conviction?

Misdemeanors are commonly punished with probation and a fine. Probation often lasts for a set period of weeks or months, and may require a defendant to observe curfews, participate in community service, undergo mental health or substance abuse treatment, or meet other requirements imposed by the judge.

Depending on the nature of the alleged offense, you could face penalties including:

  • Jail time
  • Fines
  • Court costs
  • Community service
  • Drug or alcohol treatment
  • Mental health treatment
  • Probation
  • Suspension of your driver’s license

Even though misdemeanor crimes are less severe than felonies, conviction for a misdemeanor still carries severe penalties that can affect your life for years to come. That’s why it’s critical that you work with an experienced Michigan criminal defense attorney.

What Should I Do If I’ve Been Charged with a Misdemeanor?

If you’ve been charged with a crime, even if it’s “just a misdemeanor,” you could be facing jail time, hefty fines and court costs, and a conviction on your criminal record that could affect your future for years to come.

If you have been charged and find yourself asking, what is a misdemeanor?, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help you. An attorney will clarify the charges against you and the potential penalties of a conviction, fight to protect your rights, help you negotiate a favorable plea bargain, and take your case to trial if necessary.

At Elmen Legal, I know that people come to me during some of their most stressful times. That’s why I focus on taking a caring, compassionate approach to working with my clients. I’m proud to offer personalized attention and accessibility that you won’t find from other lawyers. But rest assured that I have what it takes to win when I need to get aggressive in defense of my clients’ rights.

If you or someone you care about has been charged with a crime in or around Ann Arbor, Michigan, get answers to Frequently Asked Questions, read reviews from other clients I’ve helped, and contact Elmen Legal today.