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What is a misdemeanor?

Crimes classified as less severe than felonies are called misdemeanors. Typically, a jail term is imposed instead of a prison sentence as punishment for misdemeanors. The seriousness of an offense determines how long a defendant can potentially be imprisoned in the event of a conviction.

The majority of thefts, assaults, driving without a license and other “lesser” offenses are all considered misdemeanors. The court may impose a combination of jail time, probation and fines if the defendant is found guilty of a misdemeanor. A judge could also include restitution or reparations in a sentencing for a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanor classifications in New York

The state of New York classifies a misdemeanor as any crime that is punishable by more than 15 days but less than 364 days in jail. Misdemeanors are classified as either class B or class A, with the latter being the most serious offenses. Any crime that carries a jail sentence of more than a year is considered a felony in New York, as is the case in most states.

N.Y. Penal Code 70.15 was modified in 2019, changing the maximum jail term for a misdemeanor from one year to 364 days. This change applies even when other laws refer to a punishment of one year or 365 days, and was intended to safeguard immigrants from arbitrary deportation if they were convicted of a felony that carries a one-year imprisonment sentence.

As a result, if you received a one-year sentence before April 12, 2019, you can obtain a certificate of conviction from the criminal court. This certificate will reflect the alteration and your one-year sentence will be legally treated as a sentence of 364 days.

Though a misdemeanor does not usually carry the same severe punishments as a felony, you may be sentenced to prison rather than jail if you have been found guilty of several misdemeanors. That’s just one of the many reasons why seeking assistance with fighting these potentially consequential charges is encouraged. An unfavorable outcome to a misdemeanor case can be lifechanging.