What Is a Misdemeanor? A Definition and Insights

Is a misdemeanor on your criminal record

Understanding the different types of criminal records is essential. Without this understanding, reading background check results would be very difficult. It’s also crucial to understand how to evaluate the impact of a misdemeanor on a hiring decision. Here, we’ll look at a type of criminal charge called a misdemeanor and its definition. What is this type of charge?

A misdemeanor is a type of minor offense or crime. Misdemeanor offenses are not as serious under the law as felony offenses. Misdemeanor punishments are less severe than felony consequences. The most common misdemeanor punishments are probation, community service, or fines. There may also be a jail term. In most United States jurisdictions, the maximum punishment for a misdemeanor offense is a 12-month term of imprisonment. Convicted individuals often serve their time at local city or county jails, not state prisons.

Beyond defining a misdemeanor, what else do you need to know?

Do misdemeanors show up on a background check?

Will an employer know if you have a misdemeanor conviction? Does a misdemeanor go on your record? In most cases, the answer to these questions is yes. Misdemeanors are a part of any criminal record. A misdemeanor offense will likely appear if an employer runs a criminal background check on you.

However, the answer also depends on the type of background check the employer uses. County courts most often handle misdemeanor cases. These courts also store the records related to them and report to state repositories.

There may be times when a background check does not include some misdemeanor records. The courts may not have had time to report the conviction to the state system. If an employer only checks records in another state or location, they might miss the record. Generally, it’s best to assume that misdemeanor convictions appear on a report.

If a job application asks if you have any criminal convictions, be honest. Some employers ask only about felonies, while others ask about prior convictions. In some areas, “ban the box” legislation prevents employers from asking these questions. You do not have to disclose your conviction before the background check occurs.

Does a misdemeanor stay on your record?

A misdemeanor stays on your record for life. The only exception is a successful petition for expungement or sealing. There is no preset “expiration date” for misdemeanor crimes. Unsealed misdemeanors will always appear if someone looks up your full criminal record. The same is true for felonies.

How long does it take a misdemeanor to go away?

Do misdemeanors go away after 7 years? This common misconception is created by misreading the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Remember, your criminal record is a permanent record. According to the FCRA, some information falls off consumer reports after seven years.

Arrests that did not lead to a conviction fall into this category. However, most reporting agencies don’t include such arrests in their background checks. The FCRA rules do not apply to actual convictions, either. Without expungement, misdemeanors never go away.

However, in some cases, background checks will only go back a few years. For instance, Texas has a “seven-year rule” in place. In other states, the “lookback” period is ten years. These rules generally bar reporting agencies from sharing older conviction information. Some exceptions apply. For example, Texas has no lookback limitation if the job pays more than $75,000 annually. Employers can’t consider misdemeanors older than seven years if you apply for a job beneath this threshold.

Other states that have seven-year rules include:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Washington

Always check the criminal law in your state. Hawaii only allows misdemeanor reporting for five years, for example. When the timer begins also differs from state to state. Some jurisdictions may use different income levels to determine when criminal charges appear.

So, do misdemeanors stay on your record? Yes, but employers might not always see very old misdemeanor convictions.

Can you get a misdemeanor expunged?

Yes. In many states, there are procedures to remove misdemeanors from your record after a period of time. Felony record expungement is complicated, but misdemeanor expungement is more common. Factors that influence your eligibility vary from state to state. These factors usually include:

  • The type or class of misdemeanor
  • How long ago the conviction occurred
  • Whether you’ve had any subsequent convictions

Most states set a time limit for eligibility. The most severe misdemeanors, called Class A or Level One, might not be eligible for expungement. You usually must have a crime-free period of several years, usually about seven.

Some states automatically remove misdemeanors from your record after some time. These processes help make jobs more accessible to those with criminal records. Though less serious than felonies, misdemeanors can keep you from some job roles. Pursuing expungement can help restore those opportunities.

See what the laws in your state say about expungement. You may need to consult with an attorney, especially if you must petition the courts. A legal professional can help you navigate the petitioning process. If court appearances are necessary, they can help argue your case. Explore more about this process by visiting the page for the MyClearStart program.

If a court grants expungement, the misdemeanor vanishes from your record. It is legally as though the conviction never occurred. You can honestly answer “no” to questions about past criminal convictions. Misdemeanors expunged from your record should not appear on background checks. Employers cannot use information about expunged convictions to make decisions.

Find Out More About Misdemeanors, Felonies, and Hiring

Dive deeper into misdemeanors, background checks, and what you need to know today. We can help with other questions you may have, too. What’s a civil infraction compared to a misdemeanor? Is the definition of felony charges different? These are other important questions to explore as you learn about background checks. Find out more about these subjects in our Resource Center.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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