What are Misdemeanor Fines?

Alexis W.

Misdemeanor fines are monetary penalties assessed by a criminal court for individuals accused of misdemeanor offenses. The fines may range from a small fine to a fine of several thousand dollars, depending on the nature of the offense. The rules differ from location to location and among various jurisdictions, but generally misdemeanor fines can range up to $5,000 US Dollars (USD) for a given offense.

Individuals cited with public intoxication will be required to pay a misdemeanor fine.
Individuals cited with public intoxication will be required to pay a misdemeanor fine.

In the United States criminal justice system, there are various levels of criminal offenses: misdemeanors, felonies and capitol offenses are generally the terms used to describe these levels of crime. Misdemeanors are considered to be the least serious of criminal acts and activities. Felonies are generally more serious, and often carry penalties of over a year in jail and fines of more than $5,000 USD, depending on the crime. Capitol crimes refer to serious crimes such as murder and are crimes for which the death penalty may be issued in death penalty states.

Driving while intoxicated is considered a misdemeanor.
Driving while intoxicated is considered a misdemeanor.

When a misdemeanor is alleged, the individual is charged with the crime and brought before a criminal court. He may have an attorney or be assigned a public defender. He is permitted all of the rights that any accused person has, including the right to a fair trial. There must be sufficient evidence to prove he committed the misdemeanor for a fine or other penalty to be assessed, and the prosecutor must prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Theft is considered a misdemeanor.
Theft is considered a misdemeanor.

When the guilt of an individual is proven in a misdemeanor case, penalties are assessed by the judge who does the sentencing. Those penalties may include jail time and/or misdemeanor fines. On certain occasions, such as for driving under the influence of alcohol, which may be classified as a misdemeanor depending on the person's blood alcohol content (BAC), both a fine and jail time may be appropriate. In other situations, if the crime was very minor, such as public intoxication, a misdemeanor fine may be considered a sufficient penalty and no jail time will be issued.

Some misdemeanors are punishable with jail time.
Some misdemeanors are punishable with jail time.

The purpose of a misdemeanor fine is to deter criminal behavior and punish the offender. There are numerous situations in which misdemeanor fines may be the appropriate penalty. Misdemeanor fines may be assessed for petty theft, disturbing the peace, minor drug offenses such as possession of a small amount of marijuana, or other such crimes in which no one was harmed and no serious risk of injury existed. The penal code of the given state as well as precedent and the opinion of the judge determine when a fine is appropriate and in what amount.

Misdemeanors may result in heavy fines depending on the severity.
Misdemeanors may result in heavy fines depending on the severity.

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Discussion Comments


@alisha-- A misdemeanor fine has to be paid! If you refuse to pay it, you can be incarcerated!

From what I know, a judge considers a person's financial situation before penalizing them with a fine. And if someone is having trouble paying it, they can always appeal to the court to extend the payment deadline or to pay it in installments. It is at the judge's discretion but I doubt that any judge would put someone under that financial responsibility if they seriously can't afford it.

I don't know for sure, but I think that a misdemeanor fine plus incarceration are rarely imposed together. Maybe if the individual has many misdemeanors on their record and the fines don't appear to be effective.


@alisha-- Yea, misdemeanors are usually divided into classes depending on the severity of the crime and they have different fine ranges. But it all depends on the state, each state has different laws about this.

For example, I live in Arizona and here misdemeanors are divided into three classes. Class three is for less serious misdemeanors and fines go up to five hundred dollars. Class two is for more serious misdemeanors and fines for those go up to seven hundred and fifty dollars. And class one, which is for the most serious misdemeanors have fines up to two thousand five hundred dollars.

I agree with you that five thousand dollars is a lot. But I think that in most states, fines for misdemeanor don't go up that high. I could be wrong though.


$5000 seems like an awful lot of money for a misdemeanor, especially if it's a minor one like a traffic misdemeanor. Don't misdemeanors also have sub-categories based on the type of crime? These sub-categories should have specific fine limits right?

Also, what happens if someone can't pay the fine or refuses to pay it? What if they are in financial difficulty and can't afford it? Or what if they just delay paying it or refuse to pay it all together because they don't accept the charge? What happens then?

And in what kind of situations would a judge be inclined to order both a fine and jail time?

Sorry for asking so many questions but a friend of mine was charged with a misdemeanor recently and is waiting for the judge's decision. I don't know anything about the legal system, so I'm curious to know more and I'm also worried about my friend.

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