State and federal criminal laws classify crimes into two main categories: felonies and misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies. However, a misdemeanor conviction can still result in serious consequences.
Criminal laws further separate misdemeanor offenses into classes that generally depend on the severity of the crime. States use either numbers or letters to represent the misdemeanor classes. Class A misdemeanors are usually the most serious offenses within the misdemeanor category.
Each state, as well as the federal government, has its own body of criminal law, so one state might classify specific crimes differently from another state. In Illinois, examples of class A misdemeanors include:
- Possession of drug paraphernalia
- Driving under the influence
- Illegal consumption of alcohol by a minor
- Reckless driving
- Possession of marijuana, between 10-30 grams
- Illegal possession of firearms
Sentencing Options for Class A Misdemeanors
One of the purposes in classifying misdemeanors is to establish some predictability regarding the potential punishment after a conviction for a crime within that misdemeanor class. As with the classification of the crimes themselves, the potential consequences depend on the criminal laws set by the state or federal government.
In Illinois, anyone convicted of a class A misdemeanor can receive a sentence of to up to one year in jail and/or have to pay a fine in an amount up to $2,500. Illinois also allows an offender convicted of a class A misdemeanor to receive probation, do community service, or attend substance abuse treatment as alternative consequences of a conviction. In contrast, a class A misdemeanor in Wisconsin can result in a fine of up to $10,000 but a potential jail sentence cannot exceed nine months.
For a federal class A misdemeanor, a conviction can result in a prison sentence for a minimum of six months and a maximum of no more than one year. Federal fines can even go as high as $100,000. As with many states, the federal government can also allow for probation or require a supervised release after a convicted offender leaves prison.
In most jurisdictions, the severity of the sentence can increase for repeat offenders.
Defending Against a Class A Misdemeanor Charge
A class A misdemeanor is a criminal offense, so anyone charged with one will likely need a criminal attorney. A class A misdemeanor defendant has all the protections afforded a criminal defendant. Most significantly, the rights of an accused person often mean that the arresting jurisdiction will have to provide an attorney free of charge to represent the defendant if he or she can’t afford legal representation in the class A misdemeanor case.
Finally, the prosecuting jurisdiction generally has some discretion within the sentencing guidelines as to the severity of the sentence after a conviction. A defense attorney and prosecutor will often attempt to negotiate a plea and avoid a trial. Through a plea negotiation, the defense attorney will try to get as lenient a punishment as possible for the defendant within the class A misdemeanor guidelines as possible.