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What Is a Misdemeanor in Florida?

Florida criminal law classifies crimes as misdemeanors or felonies. While you may have heard these terms, you may not know what they mean. Legally speaking, misdemeanors are less severe than felonies. However, some misdemeanor charges can lead to penalties as serious as those given out for felonies. For residents of the Sunshine State, understanding the basics of misdemeanors under Florida law is vital. 

Classification of Misdemeanors in Florida

What is a misdemeanor in Florida, and how do they relate to various crimes? Florida uses a two-tiered system to categorize misdemeanors, with the most severe misdemeanor crimes earning first-degree designation and others classified as second-degree misdemeanors. 

But what precisely makes a misdemeanor a misdemeanor? The answer is the maximum allowable punishment.

More specifically, Florida defines a misdemeanor as a criminal offense punishable in Florida with no more than one year in a county jail, not including extended sentences that surpass a year. On the other hand, civil infractions like traffic tickets (e.g., speeding or careless driving) do not involve time behind bars but only fines and other similar consequences. 

The following sections explore each of these misdemeanor categories, along with their relevant crimes.

What Are First-Degree Misdemeanors in Florida?

So, what is a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida? It is the most serious type of misdemeanor charge. It can involve significant punishments, including jail time and fines, and leave you with a black mark on your criminal record. Jail time can reach as high as a year in many cases.

Some of the more common first-degree misdemeanors in Florida include:

Because first-degree misdemeanors are the most serious type of misdemeanor, the jail time and fines are stiffer than fines and jail time associated with second-degree misdemeanors.

The penalties you must face when dealing with a first-degree misdemeanor charge include:

  • Fines of up to $1,000 per offense;
  • Up to one year in a county jail; and
  • Probation for up to one year.

You may also be subject to a loss of your license and will likely have a permanent criminal record if you don't or are not eligible to participate in the state’s misdemeanor diversion program or if a judge declines to withhold adjudication on your sentence.

What Are Second-Degree Misdemeanors in Florida?

With that in mind, exactly what is a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida? Second-degree misdemeanors are among the state’s least serious crimes. Penalties and punishments for second-degree misdemeanor charges may include:

  • Fines reaching up to $1000;
  • Up to 60 days in a county jail; and
  • Probation for up to six months.

The punishments for second-degree misdemeanors are not as harsh as those called for in first-degree misdemeanor cases because the crimes in this category include:

  • No Valid Driver’s License;
  • Harassing phone calls;
  • Disorderly intoxication;
  • Petit theft and
  • Most fishing/wildlife violations.

Loitering or prowling and trespass are also second-degree misdemeanors.

But what about third-degree misdemeanors? There are no third-degree misdemeanors in the Sunshine State.

What Are Repeat Misdemeanors in Florida?

Although misdemeanor offenses are typically punished far more lightly than felonies, there are circumstances where a misdemeanor case will be punished more severely than usual, which occurs when the case involves repeat convictions for the same type of misdemeanor charge. Some examples of “enhanceable” misdemeanors include Petit Theft, Driving on a Suspended License, and DUI.

As with any other state, Florida treats repeat criminal offenders harsher than first- or even second-time offenders. When the charge involved is a misdemeanor, a repeat offense will result in various legal complications for the defendant, such as:

  • Ineligibility for pretrial diversion;
  • Sentence enhancements;
  • The unwillingness of a prosecutor to plea bargain
  • Lower chance of probation

The specific term for a repeat misdemeanor in Florida is “habitual misdemeanor offender.” 

When the court is dealing with a repeat misdemeanor offender, the court will likely impose one of various sentence penalties, such as:

  • A mandatory minimum of six months in jail; 
  • Commitment to a residential treatment program for at least six months or
  • Six months to a year of home detention.

For example, if someone has been charged and convicted of prostitution for the third time, they may be facing more than the 60 days in jail the charge usually requires. Instead, they could be looking at jail or house arrest for at least six months. 

Felonies vs. Misdemeanors in Florida: Key Differences

So, what is a felony in Florida vs. a misdemeanor? Felonies are considered far more serious than misdemeanors and are punished harshly. For instance, felonies in Florida are punished by longer stints behind bars than misdemeanors, and these stints must be served in a state correctional facility rather than a county jail.

Also, law enforcement and the state treat misdemeanor and felony cases differently. When a felony is involved, the state may be less prone to concessions during plea negotiations. However, a seasoned criminal defense lawyer often convinces the prosecutor to drop certain felonies down to misdemeanors. 

Regarding sealing and expungement, if you have been charged with a felony, your defense attorney will likely do everything possible to reduce your felony charges to misdemeanor charges. If successful, they may be able to have your criminal record sealed or expunged after the final disposition of your case has occurred. If unsuccessful, your attorney may still be able to ask for a withhold of adjudication, which—depending on the type of charge—may allow you to apply for sealing.

Keep in mind that with a criminal record, your life may be significantly impacted for the worse. For example, a felony on your criminal record will prevent you from:

  • Owning or possessing firearms;
  • Voting; and
  • Serving on a jury.

A felony also prevents you from holding public office.

Additionally, a felony can potentially disqualify you from various types of employment, such as:

  • Teaching;
  • Childcare jobs;
  • Policing; and
  • Certain professional jobs which require licensing.

Even if you are not legally disqualified from a job for having a felony, employers are often hesitant to hire anyone with a felony conviction. People with misdemeanor records may also have difficulty with employment, but typically not to the extent that felons do. 

How to Reduce or Expunge Misdemeanors in Florida

If you are familiar with Florida’s criminal justice system, you likely know that arrest charges often change when the state charges the defendant. For example, if you are arrested for theft, your charge may ultimately be upgraded to a felony, downgraded to a petit theft charge, or remain the same. 

Your defense attorney will work diligently to get your charges downgraded or dismissed. During plea negotiations, the prosecutor typically offers reduced charges in exchange for not going to trial. This common practice, known as plea bargaining, saves the state time and money and gives defendants benefits, such as reduced charges and punishments. 

Another way that misdemeanor charges may be handled involves pretrial diversion. Florida’s Misdemeanor Pretrial Diversion Program allows certain defendants charged with misdemeanors to avoid jail time and remove the criminal charge from their record. 

To qualify for Florida’s Misdemeanor Pretrial Diversion Program, the following parties must consent to your participation in the program:

  • The alleged victim or victims;
  • The prosecutor and
  • The presiding judge (although they typically only become involved at the close of your case).

In many cases, defendants who choose this program must typically complete a course or some other rehabilitative method designed to address the nature of the misdemeanor charge. For instance, a person charged with misdemeanor drug possession may ultimately have to attend and complete a drug and alcohol rehabilitation course as a condition of the pre-trial diversion. Similarly, a person charged with Battery may be required to complete an anger management course. These sanctions vary depending on the nature of the charge.

Other standard requirements for a misdemeanor pre-trial diversion include:

  • Payment of fees;
  • Zero contact with the victim;
  • Payment of restitution and/or
  • Community service.

Generally, to take advantage of the diversion program, you must be a first-time offender. Your lawyer will answer whether your case qualifies for sealing. If you‘ve been charged with a misdemeanor, don’t delay seeking help from an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Importance of a Lawyer for Misdemeanor Charges in Florida

The Constitution gives you the right to have an attorney in all criminal matters, including misdemeanors. In every case, the sooner you consult with a lawyer, the better your chances of resolving your case. Delaying means your lawyer may have to play catch-up while your freedom is on the line.

Remember that your lawyer will not only fight to get you free from your charges but also provide you with other services throughout the lifecycle of your charge. For example, if you are arrested, you may initially be jailed while your case goes through the system. With an attorney on your side, you have an advocate who will fight to get you bail and argue to have evidence excluded from your case.

Additionally, your attorney can help reduce the collateral impacts that typically accompany criminal charges, be they misdemeanors or felonies. Your lawyer can potentially help you get your record sealed or expunged, which is an in-depth and somewhat complex process.

As your advocate, your criminal defense attorney will employ every resource available to them to investigate your case and craft a solid defense. As a defendant, you need a professional whose sole job is to defend you and ensure your rights are not violated. 

When it comes time to seek the services of a defense lawyer — which should occur as soon after an arrest or charge as possible — there are a few points you should keep in mind to help ensure you choose the right professional, such as only considering lawyers who:

  • Have direct experience in cases such as yours;
  • Have a proven track record and solid reputation, and
  • Show you the respect and courtesy you deserve.

Your life and future are important; you deserve a competent and caring professional to defend you. 

Reach Out to a Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Regardless of the level of crime, if you have been charged with a criminal offense, you need a strong defense. Even if you only face a misdemeanor, don’t allow yourself to downplay the potential impact a misdemeanor charge can have on your life. 

A seasoned criminal defense lawyer from The Denson Firm can fight to protect your future, whether you are facing charges for a traffic infraction or misdemeanor battery. Attorney Bruce Denson and his team have over 20 years of experience handling criminal cases, from first-time cases to repeat offenses, and we can help you with yours. 

Contact us to schedule your consultation today.

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