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Even Misdemeanor Charges Can Have Serious Consequences

A misdemeanor is a relatively minor crime, at least as compared to a felony. However, do not assume that just because your crime is minor the consequences will be too. Most crimes come with both direct and indirect consequences, some of which can affect you for the rest of your life. Even misdemeanor charges can have serious consequences.

Direct Consequences

Direct consequences of misdemeanor charges are those imposed by the judge as a result of your being found guilty of a crime. These punishments are significantly lower than for felonies, but they are not necessarily insignificant—they can easily take you away from friends and family for an extended period of time and deplete your finances.

  • Jail: Especially for multiple misdemeanor offenses, it is possible to spend up to a year in jail or 2.5 years in some jurisdictions.
  • Fines: Misdemeanor crimes are eligible for fines up to $1,000 or as much as $2,500 in a few jurisdictions.
  • Mandatory classes: You may be required to complete an alcohol or drug abuse program for some offenses.

Other possible sentences, such as community service or court supervision, can also severely restrict your freedom while you are subject to them.

Collateral Consequences

Collateral consequences of misdemeanor charges are potential penalties separate from the criminal penalties. These are typically civil penalties, many of which can make it hard to get on with your life. Some of these consequences are specific to certain crimes, while others apply to any crime. The most obvious one is having a criminal record that will follow you for life unless you are able to have it expunged. That record can lead to additional collateral consequences, including:

  • Ineligibility for public housing, housing vouchers, or other public benefits: The Public Housing Authority can deny you housing if there is compelling evidence you are or were involved with drug- or alcohol-related activities. Other public services affected by drug convictions include federally backed student loans, grants, work assistance, and welfare benefits.

  • Loss of the right to own a firearm: Anyone convicted of any drug offense, including misdemeanor marijuana possession, may not own any type of gun.

  • Trouble getting a job: Most states have laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of a criminal record, but they can be hard to enforce, especially in employment-at-will states.

  • Driver's license suspension: You can lose your license for multiple moving violations, some drug and alcohol convictions, and illegally purchasing alcohol.

  • Loss or denial of professional license: Many professions that require a license to practice will suspend your license for a misdemeanor conviction, especially if the crime is related to job performance. An example is a security guard convicted of trespass, theft, or criminal mischief convictions. The FAA requires pilots to self-report certain misdemeanor charges and may suspend certification for failure to do so.

  • Deportation: Even immigrants with legal resident status could face deportation if charged with certain misdemeanors.

If you are charged with a misdemeanor, speak to a criminal defense attorney right away to be sure you understand all the potential consequences of a guilty plea or verdict.