All criminal offenses in the United States, regardless of whether a state or federal crime, are usually categorized as either felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies cover the more serious crimes while states charge the less severe criminal acts as misdemeanors. In addition, criminal infractions are in a separate category reserved for offenses where offenders will not receive jail time. Within each category, crimes are further sub-categorized into classes of severity.
The federal government and numerous states typically use only three classifications for misdemeanors, with class C misdemeanors typically representing the least serious of the misdemeanor offenses. Some jurisdictions may also have a fourth category called “unclassified misdemeanors” or have class D misdemeanors. Depending on the state, unclassified or class D misdemeanors might be the least serious criminal offenses in a jurisdiction, or they can refer to lesser offenses where judges have more sentencing discretion.
In each jurisdiction classifying crimes as class C misdemeanors, the state has its own list of offenses that qualify. In Illinois, the list includes:
- Possession of less than 2.5 grams of marijuana
- Disorderly conduct
- Simple Assault
In other jurisdictions, the following types of offenses often qualify as class C misdemeanors:
- Writing a bad check
- Leaving a child in a vehicle
- Public intoxication
- Possession of an open alcoholic beverage in a vehicle
- Dangerous use of a laser pointer
Sentencing Options for Class C Misdemeanors
The sentencing guidelines for a class C misdemeanor generally reflect the status of the crime as the least serious criminal offense in a jurisdiction. In Illinois, anyone convicted of a class C misdemeanor can receive a sentence of to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,500. In contrast, Wisconsin lowers the potential fine for a class C misdemeanor conviction to a maximum of only $500.
A federal class C misdemeanor conviction has similar imprisonment standards: no less than five days but no more than 30 days. However, the federal conviction carries with it a potential fine of up to $5,000.
Regardless of the sentence length, imprisonment due to a misdemeanor conviction usually means time in a local jail rather than time in state or federal prison.
Defending Against a Class C Misdemeanor Charge
While a class C misdemeanor may not seem like a serious offense, a conviction can still result in serious consequences. A misdemeanor conviction still becomes part of an individual’s criminal record, which impact the individual’s ability to get a job or lead to other social consequences.
All criminal defendants, including class C misdemeanor defendants, have the same legal protections. For example, to secure a conviction, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person arrested on a class C misdemeanor charge committed the act. Prosecutors may prefer to enter into a plea bargain with a class C misdemeanor defendant and avoid taking a relatively minor case to trial. A plea bargain generally allows the state to avoid the cost of a trial and may help a defendant to negotiate for the lowest possible sentence.