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What is a Gross Misdemeanor?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A gross misdemeanor is a crime which is viewed as more serious than a misdemeanor, but not on the level of a felony. Examples of gross misdemeanors vary, depending on regional laws, but can include things like driving under the influence, some types of assault, and petty theft. Some regions also have another classification of crimes, petty misdemeanors, for minor crimes which can result in fines, but not jail time, such as traffic offenses.

The punishment for a gross misdemeanor can vary. Generally people cannot be sentenced to more than a year in jail, and they can be subject to fines in addition to or instead of jail. Community service may also be considered as a punishment option for someone who has committed a gross misdemeanor. Judges generally decide on the sentence with the assistance of sentencing guidelines set out by the legislature to indicate how people should be punished for various crimes.

Unlike a felony, a gross misdemeanor does not create a black mark on someone's record which could become an obstacle to employment and other things. However, the increased severity of the crime does result in stiffer punishments. Furthermore, people who commit gross misdemeanors repeatedly may be subjected to additional punishments. For example, the first driving under the influence offense may be punished with temporary license suspension, fines, and jail time, but a repeat offender could lose her or his driver's license and face additional penalties.

A misdemeanor attorney who specializes in helping people who have been accused of these types of crimes can sometimes be helpful to consult, for someone who is facing trial and punishment for a gross misdemeanor. The attorney may be able to work out a deal such as a lighter sentence with credit for time served. Attorneys can also look for flaws in the case which can be used to get the case thrown out of court, although this is not necessarily guaranteed.

When someone is arrested or stopped for a gross misdemeanor, a summons will usually be included on the paperwork, indicating when the subject should show up at court. For those who spend time in jail, such as drunk drivers taken to jail by the police, the summons will be handed out with the exit paperwork. If someone is not sure about when to show up at court, an officer of the court can be called and asked to check the docket to see when the case is scheduled. Failure to show up at court can result in the issuance of a bench warrant.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By SZapper — On May 01, 2012

I think it's good that gross misdemeanors don't give a person a black mark on their record. Even someone with a gross misdemeanor charge should be able to find employment.

Actually, I've always thought it was a little ridiculous that people with felonies are barred from so many jobs. Yes, I agree that someone who committed a serious crime maybe shouldn't work at a daycare or something. But if you've served your time, you should at least be able to find gainful employment.

So at least people who've been convicted of a gross misdemeanor will be able to make a living and not commit greater crimes out of desperation or something.

By strawCake — On Apr 30, 2012

@KaBoom - Where I live, I know there are some other driving related crimes that can count as a gross misdemeanor. I actually had a friend that ended up on supervised probation for driving on a suspended license!

Honestly though, I don't think driving on a suspended license should be considered a gross misdemeanor. It seems to me like it's more a violation of a regulation than anything else. You can get your license suspended for any number of things, and not all of them mean you're not a good driver. I don't think someone driving on a suspended license should get the same penalty as a drunk driver.

By KaBoom — On Apr 30, 2012

I think it makes a lot of sense to have this category of crimes. In most areas, felonies and misdemeanors are a lot different. A murder is a felony, while something like vandalism is a misdemeanor. In the case of murder, another person is hurt (killed, actually), but in the case of vandalism, the only thing that is damaged is property.

However, something like driving under the influence isn't as serious as a murder, but way more serious than vandalism. You could easily kill someone by driving under the influence. So it only makes sense there is a category for a crime like this.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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