There are four basic Minnesota levels of offense: petty misdemeanor, misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, and felony. The following chart summarizes the differences between the levels:
|Petty Misdemeanor||Misdemeanor||Gross Misdemeanor||Felony|
|Incarceration?||None||Up to 90 days||Up to 1 year||More than 1 year|
|Fine||$300 or less||$1000 or less||$3000 or less||Varies|
|Probation? (typical)||None||1-2 years||3-6 years||Varies|
|Examples||Speeding ticket, possession of a small amount of marijuana||1st time DWI, 5th degree assault||2nd time DWI, Prostitution||Drug offenses, sex offenses|
A petty misdemeanor is the lowest Minnesota level of offense that exists. In fact, a petty misdemeanor is not considered a crime. A person convicted of a petty misdemeanor can only be fined up to $300.00. A petty misdemeanor is not technically a crime because no jail time can be given. An example of a petty misdemeanor is speeding or possession of a small amount of marijuana. Petty misdemeanors generally do not affect you if you are on probation for a criminal offense.
Although a petty misdemeanor is not technically a “crime,” it can have the same collateral consequences as actual crimes. Petty misdemeanors do typically come up on a background check and employers may care. For example, a petty misdemeanor theft may not be a crime, but if you are applying for a position at a retail store, your potential employer may care a great deal that you have been convicted of theft and ignore the fact that it is only a petty misdemeanor. This is why, even for a petty misdemeanor charge, it is important to have a skilled criminal defense attorney representing you.
A misdemeanor is a step up from a petty misdemeanor in Minnesota levels of offense. A person convicted of a misdemeanor can be sentenced up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Crimes that are regarded as less serious are referred to as misdemeanors. In Minnesota, crimes like most first offense DWIs and fifth degree assaults are misdemeanors. As a general rule, the penalty depends on your judge. For most misdemeanors, even if convicted, you will likely not face executed jail consequences.
If you have a great criminal defense attorney representing you, he or she may be able to negotiate many higher offenses (gross misdemeanors and felonies) down to misdemeanors. This usually lessens your potential jail sentence. Misdemeanors also usually have a probation term of one or two years, if you are convicted.
A gross misdemeanor is another step up in Minnesota levels of offense. A person convicted of a gross misdemeanor can be sentenced up to 1 year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine. Gross misdemeanor offenses are usually second- or third-time DWIs and prostitution offenses. For gross misdemeanor offenses, you may serve a couple days in jail or a couple days on sentence to service, which is organized community service through the courts. You are also facing longer probation than for a misdemeanor offense—typically 3–6 years.
A felony is the highest Minnesota levels of offense you can be charged with. A person convicted of a felony can be sentenced to over a year in prison and/or a fine.
Along with a long probation term, you may also have a period of conditional release following a prison term. Felonies in Minnesota are usually offenses such as fourth-time DWIs (or more), homicide, and perjury.
If you are convicted of a felony, you will find that your rights may be restricted more than those of a person convicted of a misdemeanor. Convicted felons usually serve more jail time and the conditions of their incarceration generally are more severe. There are many other consequences. You will not be able to serve on a jury. You may lose your right to vote or to engage in some professions like teaching or law. Felons are often prohibited from serving in the military or owning firearms. Sometimes, these rights are restored.
Bottom line: contact a skilled criminal defense attorney as soon as possible if facing a felony charge.