Many people believe that misdemeanors are no big deal. Many people also believe that the earth is flat.
What do these people have in common? They're all wrong.
Misdemeanors, while not as serious as felonies, are crimes. They are, by law, punishable by non-state prison (county jail, probation, fines, and such). You can, however, go to jail for a misdemeanor and be convicted. A misdemeanor conviction (adjudication) will remain on your criminal record for 75 years.
Misdemeanors can be violent (assault, battery, stalking) or non-violent (petit theft, possession of marijuana). However, like all criminal offenses, entering a plea of guilty or no contest is not without consequence. Here are some of the consequences that you may not have known:
1) If you enter a plea to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge, you cannot have that charge sealed or expunged from your record, even if adjudication was withheld.
2) A plea to "credit for time served," also known as "credit time served," "time served," or "CTS," is a conviction. You will have an adjudication on your record that cannot be erased.
3) A plea of no contest does not eliminate the negative consequences of a finding of guilt by the court.
4) Because criminal records are public, unless sealed or expunged, you may be denied the ability to rent or lease a property as landlords may not want "criminals" living in their developments. A denial of a rental application based on prior criminal history is perfectly legal.
5) Your arrest record does not automatically go away just because adjudication was withheld. You must seal your record (if eligible) in order to do that.
6) If adjudicated guilty of possession of marijuana (cannabis), possession of drug paraphernalia, or possession of a legend drug (prescription), you will lose your driver's license for two years.
7) If adjudicated guilty, you cannot seal your record. This includes the current charge or any previous or subsequent charges.
8) If convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge you will lose the right to own or possess a firearm.
9) Certain misdemeanors (such as battery, petit theft, driving while license suspended, and DUI) can be reclassified as felonies if you have a certain number of prior convictions for those offenses.
10) A plea of guilty or no contest to a criminal offense, even a misdemeanor, can result in your deportation from this country if you are not a citizen. Click here to learn more about the immigration consequences of entering a plea to a criminal offense.
11) Guilty or no contest pleas to driving while license suspended could add up to ultimately make you a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO). Driving while an HTO is a felony.
12) If your charge is sexually-related or sexually-motivated (indecent exposure) you may face extended imprisonment under the Jimmy Ryce Act if you are ever sentenced to state prison for a subsequent felony offense.
The bottom line is don't go into court by yourself (very bad idea) and enter a plea just because it's a misdemeanor and you want to get it over with. Talk with a criminal attorney and make sure that a guilty or no contest plea is in your best interest.