Friday Q&A: What is a Misdemeanor?

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Welcome to our weekly series, Friday Q&A. Each week our criminal defense lawyers in Delaware will respond to a question selected from the many received by direct and online submission. Have a question you want answered or topic you want to hear more about? Submit your suggestions to us by tweeting@TLOBJ or sending a message to our Facebook Page.

Question: What is a misdemeanor? What is the difference between the different kinds of misdemeanors?

Answer: A misdemeanor is a crime that has been defined by the legislature as less serious than a felony, and is usually punishable by a fine, penalty, forfeiture, or a brief period of confinement in a place other than prison, like the county jail.

“Misdemeanor” is the term that came to describe all crimes that were not felonies or treason during the American common law period (or the time prior to codified, state-specific criminal and civil codes.) Misdemeanors differ from felonies in how they are charged, prosecuted, and ultimately, in the range of potential penalties.

Take for example, the legislature-provided statutes of limitations for crimes in Ohio. For a minor misdemeanor, a complaint must be filed within six months of the date of the incident and a misdemeanor complaint must be charged within two years of the date of the incident; while a felony can be charged up to eight years after the date of the incident (and some crimes, like murder, have no limitation on when charges can be brought.) See, R.C. 2901.13.

Because misdemeanors are statutorily considered less severe than felonies, it is no surprise that the range of penalties for misdemeanor crimes is lower than that of felonies.

Ohio Misdemeanor Penalties Chart

Some misdemeanor charges like Driving Under Suspension (DUS), Driving Under the Influence (DUI/OVI), and drug offenses come with mandatory jail time. See, R.C. 2929.24.

DUS, OVI, and drug offenses also carry the possibility of a driver’s license suspension, for a minimum of six-months to a maximum of ten years. See, R.C. 4510.02.

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