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What Is a Misdemeanor?

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A lawyer standing with his client before the judge in a criminal trial.
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Question: What Is a Misdemeanor?
Answer: A misdemeanor is a "lesser" crime in the United States with less severe penalties that felonies, but more severe punishment than infractions. Generally, misdemeanors are crime for which the maximum sentence is 12 months or less.

Many states have laws that establish different levels or classifications for misdemeanors, such as Class 1, Class 2, etc. The most severe classes are those that are punishable by jail time, while the other classifications are misdemeanors for which the maximum sentence does not include incarceration.

Misdemeanor sentences of incarceration are usually served in the local city or county jail, while felony sentences are served in prison. Most misdemeanor sentences, however, usually involve paying a fine and doing community service or serving probation.

Except in a very few states, people convicted of misdemeanors do not lose any civil rights, as convicted felons do, but can be prohibited from getting certain jobs.

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