How a Misdemeanor Offense Can Change your Life
Imagine you’re walking down a busy street in the middle of the day and decide to cross when a spot clears up before reaching a designated crosswalk. It’s hot out, and the next light isn’t for another few blocks because the city you’re in was built for cars, with long stretches between intersections. As you’re getting where you need to go more efficiently to escape the heat, a cop stops you and berates you for jaywalking. You might even receive a ticket. If you’re especially unlucky, the officer might find a reason to place you in handcuffs. This is all possible over an offense that did not cause harm to you or anyone else.
The term “jaywalking” isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Florida Statutes; it’s a catch-all term for pedestrian actions that are considered noncriminal traffic infractions. Jaywalking is a behavior that some consider a nuisance, but should not require police intervention. Still, police have free reign to approach anyone they believe is breaking the law, including people crossing the street.
Most people don’t worry about being confronted by law enforcement for jaywalking because it’s an everyday action. Regardless, police officers can use it as an excuse to question and detain you. You may even receive a citation requiring you to pay a fine. If you’re incapable of paying this fine, you might incur more fines or a warrant for your arrest for failing to pay the court. Understanding that an act as trivial as jaywalking can lead to a police response will change your perception of our justice system.
What is a misdemeanor crime in Florida?
An infraction like jaywalking is just one step below a misdemeanor offense like driving with a suspended license or disorderly conduct. The term “misdemeanor” is a broad term that refers to a variety of non-violent and violent crimes. DUI and domestic violence put the lives of others at risk, but they’re usually misdemeanor charges. What misdemeanors all have in common is that the most a person can serve as part of a sentence is one year in jail. In Florida, misdemeanor penalties can also consist of a fine of no more than $1,000. Additional court fees are also likely.
Common misdemeanor crimes include:
- Driving with a suspended license
- Petit theft
- Possessing less than 20g of marijuana
- Resisting an officer without violence
- Prostitution (first offense)
- Disorderly conduct
- Domestic violence battery
Too many people make the mistake of assuming misdemeanor crimes aren’t serious or that the consequences of a conviction won’t affect them in a meaningful way. This is partially due to the exorbitant consequences people can face when they’re convicted of felony offenses; by comparison, penalties for misdemeanor crimes seem mild.
This myth couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Potential Consequences of a Misdemeanor Conviction
People who are charged with a misdemeanor often plead guilty to get through the criminal process more quickly. Unfortunately, the effects of a criminal conviction can follow a person around for their entire life. Just one conviction for a seemingly insignificant crime could lay the groundwork for future convictions, starting a snowball effect of real-life obstacles.
Future Run-ins with Law Enforcement
Once you have a criminal record, it does not go away without considerable effort to apply for expungement. Even if you work with a qualified expungement lawyer, there’s no guarantee that your record will be cleared. If police stop you at a later date, you’re more likely to receive harsher treatment from the justice system. Enhanced penalties are possible for minor offenses if you’ve already demonstrated to the court that you don’t deserve leniency by having a criminal conviction.
Finding a Job or Place to Live with a Criminal Conviction
It’s become a standard practice for employers and even landlords to conduct thorough background checks on all applicants for jobs and housing. Employers are keen on finding criminal convictions on applicants’ records. Once they see a misdemeanor conviction, they often use it to deprive potential employees of jobs they might be qualified for. In some situations, individuals who already have a job and who are then convicted of a crime are let go, creating a financial hardship. As background checks become more widespread, it becomes increasingly challenging to navigate the real world with a criminal past.
Receiving Government Benefits after a Misdemeanor Conviction
A person with a criminal record can lose important government benefits like food stamps, eligibility for low-income housing, and educational support through grants and loans. In Florida, there’s a partial ban on drug offenders being eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).
Effects of a Conviction on Tending to Your Family
If you’re the primary breadwinner in your family, all these roadblocks make continuing to support them financially a hefty burden. If you’re incarcerated or on probation, your time spent with loved ones will also be restricted and limited. Before accepting that you might just need to face the worst possible consequences, you deserve to exercise your right to defend yourself in court through quality representation.
Fight for Your Family and Future with Orlando’s Dedicated Defense Lawyers
The Umansky Law Firm is a top-rated criminal defense law firm in Orlando that serves people facing misdemeanor, felony, and federal charges in Central Florida. Our team of skilled lawyers has more than 100 years of combined experience protecting the rights of the criminally accused. As former prosecutors, we understand the approach the state will take when trying to gain a conviction. Trust us to protect your interests through each stage of the criminal process.
Founder William Umansky serves on the Orange County Bar Association as Executive Council and is a current member of the Florida Justice Association, and we have board-certified criminal trial lawyers on staff who look forward to learning about your case. Call our office or complete our contact form for a free case review.