Criminal defense FAQ: how serious is a misdemeanor charge?

As noted previously on our Quincy legal issues blog, Massachusetts could raise the limit for felony larceny from its current threshold of $250. While a felony is a very serious charge, readers should not get the wrong idea about misdemeanors: they are not something to be taken lightly. Just what is a misdemeanor, and how does it differ from other criminal charges?

A misdemeanor, as our readers will be aware, is a lesser level of charge than a felony. Whereas a felony conviction will usually result in at least a year in prison, a misdemeanor involves a maximum sentence of less than one year. In that sense, a misdemeanor is more serious than an "infraction" -- a crime for which fines may be imposed, but no incarceration.

Because of the possibility of imprisonment, a misdemeanor is regarded as a "crime of moral turpitude." With such a crime on one's record, an individual with a misdemeanor conviction on his or her record will likely face challenges in obtaining an education, particularly since the misdemeanor will render that person ineligible for many scholarships. Job opportunities will also become harder to find, particularly jobs that pay well, although potential employers won't be able to see the conviction after five years (as opposed to 10 years for a felony).

With the possibility of fines, up to a year in prison, and significant setbacks that will continue even after the sentence is served, many will seek out a criminal defense professional when faced with a misdemeanor charge. The information presented here is intended to be general in nature only, and not a specific legal advice.

Source: Findlaw.com, "Misdemeanors," accessed on Dec. 8, 2017

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