A misdemeanor is an offense for which the maximum penalty is less than one year in jail. Misdemeanors are criminal offenses that are less serious than felonies but more serious than mere infractions.
Both the state of Ohio and the federal government can charge you with a misdemeanor. Both governments maintain a list of misdemeanors. The difference is that the federal government can charge you with a federal misdemeanor, but it can also charge you with a state misdemeanor if you commit it on federal property.
Ohio Misdemeanor Classifications
Ohio classifies its misdemeanors into five categories::
- First-degree misdemeanors can carry a sentence of up to 180 days in jail time and a fine of up to $1,000. Examples of first-degree misdemeanors include petty theft, carrying an unlicensed firearm, violating a domestic violence protection order, assault, and joyriding.
- Second-degree misdemeanors can carry a sentence of up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $750. Examples of second-degree misdemeanors include resisting arrest and harassing a police dog.
- Third-degree misdemeanors can carry a sentence of up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Criminal mischief and loitering for the purposes of prostitution are two examples.
- Fourth-degree misdemeanors carry a sentence of no more than 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. Examples of fourth-degree misdemeanors include possession of drug paraphernalia (bongs, for example), public indecency, and failure to disperse.
- Minor misdemeanors are fine-only offenses with a maximum fine of $150. Examples include disorderly conduct, reckless driving, and possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana.
Remember that federal authorities can charge you with a state crime if you commit the crime on federal property, such as a national park.
Federal Misdemeanor Classifications
Federal crimes include three classes of misdemeanors. The federal government also maintains a list of “infractions.”
These are delineated as follows:
- Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to 12 months in jail. Examples of Class A misdemeanors include DUI, possession of certain drugs for personal use, and petty theft.
- Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in jail. Harassment and aggravated speeding on a federal highway are examples of Class B misdemeanors.
- Class C misdemeanors are punishable by up to 30 days in jail. Disorderly conduct, simple assault, and theft of less than $50 are all examples of Class C misdemeanors.
- Infractions, which are federal offenses that are not criminal offenses, carry a maximum penalty of five days in jail. In many cases, there is only a small fine with no jail time.
It’s essential to determine whether you’re being charged with a federal or state misdemeanor. Fortunately, a criminal defense attorney can do so with ease.
Special Case: Possession of Marijuana
Ohio allows the restricted use of medical marijuana, and it recently decriminalized possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana. That doesn’t mean it’s legal. Violations are minor misdemeanors for which Ohio cannot even send you to jail. Such a petty possession offense doesn’t even appear on your criminal record. The use of medical marijuana is legal in Ohio.
Federal Marijuana Law
Federal law is different, however. Possession of any amount of marijuana is illegal under federal law. Federal law applies throughout the United States, including Ohio. Federal law contains no exception for medical marijuana. Additionally, when federal law conflicts with state law, federal law generally prevails.
Under federal law, you can face a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 for possession of even a small amount of marijuana. Penalties increase dramatically for subsequent offenses.
What protects you from these penalties is the federal government’s policy decision not to enforce federal marijuana law in states that have enacted contrary marijuana laws.
Since this policy could change at any time, keep abreast of developments. Do not try to bring marijuana through an Ohio airport if your destination is a jurisdiction where marijuana is illegal.
Wobbler offenses are offenses that a prosecutor can charge as a misdemeanor or a felony. A prior offense can turn a misdemeanor into a felony.
In Ohio, for example, a fourth DUI in 10 years is a felony. Theft operates as the functional equivalent of a wobbler offense. This is because the theft of $1000 or more is a felony, while theft of less than $1,000 constitutes an M-1 misdemeanor. If the value of the item is close to $1,000, the skill of your lawyer could make a critical difference.
The Assistance of a Seasoned Criminal Defense Lawyer Could Be Critical
The Ohio criminal justice system and the federal criminal justice system share a few qualities in common. Both systems are complex, intimidating, brutal, and merciless if you are unfamiliar with their nuances.
The assistance of a seasoned criminal defense attorney is a practical necessity. Do NOT try to defend yourself without an attorney or rely on an overworked public defender. There is very little room for error when your freedom is at stake.