There are a lot of 'first times' to look forward to in life, but catching your first misdemeanor charge is not one of them. Being charged with a misdemeanor offense is not something to take lightly. You can go to jail, face serious fines, and endure severe life disruptions that can have an effect on your family, career, friendships, and other obligations.
At the outset, there are a few things you should know. To start, being charged with a misdemeanor does not mean you are guilty. The prosecutor must prove guilt. If you were arrested and/or booked into custody prior to the charges being brought, then you will have an arrest record, but not a criminal record. If you are convicted, or even accept a plea bargain, then you will have a criminal record.
Jail Time, Jail Type, and Fines
The primary distinction between a misdemeanor and a felony is the amount of jail time a person faces if convicted. Misdemeanors, generally, do not allow jail sentences of more than one year, while felony convictions can carry sentences starting at one year going all the way up to life sentences, and in some states, death sentences.
Another distinction is that felony convictions will require jail sentences be served at state run facilities, often referred to as prisons, while misdemeanor sentences are generally served at local or county run facilities, which get referred to as jails.
With any conviction, the court is going to assess fines not just for the crime itself, but for court costs, processing costs, and potentially even the costs to house you in jail. Typically, the fines for a misdemeanor conviction in any given state are going to be less than those assessed against an individual convicted of a felony, but can still be rather substantial. Many states also qualify some misdemeanors as petty crimes. Petty crimes usually carry lesser fines and lesser maximum jail sentences.
Clearing Your Record
If you are arrested but not charged, or charged, but not convicted, you may request that a court expunge the record of your arrest and/or charges. Even if you are convicted of a misdemeanor, after you have completed your sentence, including any court ordered post-incarceration programs, you can also request that the record of your conviction be expunged.
Sometimes a prosecutor may agree to make an expungement part of a negotiated plea bargain, where after all conditions of the plea bargain have been satisfied, such as fines paid, community service completed, probation completed without any violations, the court will automatically expunge the record. Typically, an individual will be allowed one expungement in their lifetime.
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor, speak to a criminal defense attorney right away to ensure that your rights are protected.