What is a Petty Misdemeanor?
A “petty misdemeanor” is a small violation of law, prohibited by a Minnesota statute. But it’s “not a crime.”
It has a maximum sentence of a fine only, of $300 or less. Minnesota Statutes §609.02, subd. 4a; Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure 23.01. The law does not allow arrest before, or jail after, “conviction.”
Can result in a public conviction record
In Minnesota, even though a petty violation is “not a crime;” the charge can result in a “conviction” (unless a non-conviction outcome results, such as dismissal).
Though this should not damage a person’s reputation, occupational licensing and job prospects, it may. So, better to avoid this legal and social ambiguity by avoiding even a “petty” conviction. And a good defense attorney can help.
And yet, Minnesota has a wide range of petty misdemeanors, including those with:
- social stigma (example: marijuana). Stigma is part of a person’s liberty interest.
- driver’s license record impacts (example: speeding) on stigma and right to drive.
- no stigma, no moving violation, no identified violator (e.g., parking ticket)
Some may be more worth fighting than others.
What about a Misdemeanor “certified as a Petty” or court’s “payables list?”
A misdemeanor charge can result in a petty conviction three ways:
- Sentence is within petty limits, or
- Prosecutor “certifies” the misdemeanor charge as a petty, or
- Misdemeanor is on the Minnesota court’s payable offenses list.
Sentence is within petty misdemeanor limits
Though not addressed in Minnesota Statutes, the Court’s Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure 23.02 says:
“A conviction is deemed a petty misdemeanor if the sentence imposed is within petty misdemeanor limits.”Minn. Rules of Crim. Pro. 23.02
The Court will certify a conviction as a Petty based on the sentence imposed, under this Court Rule. As a result, if the Judge “imposes” a sentence within the petty limits; a person adjudicated guilty of a gross misdemeanor charge, would have a petty level of conviction. (The petty sentencing limits are no jail and fine of $300 or less.)
Can a prosecutor certify a misdemeanor as a petty?
The law addresses prosecutors attempting to certify a misdemeanor charge for prosecution as a petty. See, for example, Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure 23.04. But what does that mean?
On the positive side, a petty conviction is less serious than a misdemeanor conviction. But on the other hand, it takes away the constitutional right of the accused to a jury trial.
The accused can object and ask the judge to prevent this. Anytime a prosecutor can unilaterally strip a person of their fundamental rights; is constitutionally suspect. And the public record of the person with misdemeanor charges “certified as a petty” conviction may show the misdemeanor charge. This can have negative consequences.
Minnesota court’s “payable offenses” list
The Minnesota Court develops and maintains a list of “payable offenses” or “payables.” An “offense” is a crime; a felony, gross misdemeanor or simple misdemeanor. A petty misdemeanor is a “violation,” not an offense.
And, a “payable offense” conveys: “a criminal charge for which a person can pay a fine without going to court.” Just paying the fine results in conviction. So convenience comes at a price.
If the sentence is within the petty limits, the “offense” becomes a petty misdemeanor “conviction.” The Minnesota court makes the list of payable offenses available online. But usually a citation for a payable offense will suggest payment of the fine.
A person cited for a misdemeanor payable offense has the right to arrange a court date. Once at court, she can try to prevent a conviction from going on her public court record.
One example of a misdemeanor payable offense is marijuana in a motor vehicle (open container – cannabis). A police officer may suggest “you don’t even need to go to court,” as if that’s a good thing. But if you mail in the fine, you’ll have a petty conviction of a misdemeanor charge on your court record.
And, the court administrator will then “certify” the motor vehicle-related conviction to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS). DPS will then include it on your driver’s license record. DPS will also revoke your driver’s license for a minimum of 30 days. It’s often worth fighting it in court, and hiring a defense lawyer to improve your effort.
Are all traffic violations petty misdemeanors?
No. Most speeding and other traffic, driving, drivers license and motor vehicle-related offenses are petties. But some are not.
Some could be either, depending how the prosecutor decides to charge them. For example, a prosecutor could charge a speeding ticket as a misdemeanor or as a petty. (But a petty charge is more common.)
What law can turn a petty misdemeanor into a misdemeanor?
What is the most common way a typical traffic petty becomes a misdemeanor charge? The citing police officer checks a box on the traffic ticket: “endangers person or property.”
Another, less common way a traffic petty can become misdemeanor is when two petty convictions precede it within twelve months.
Here is an excerpt from the Minnesota Statute:
Subd. 1. “Violation; when petty misdemeanor enhanced to misdemeanor. Unless otherwise declared in this chapter with respect to particular offenses, it is a petty misdemeanor for any person to do any act forbidden or fail to perform any act required by this chapter; except that:Minn. Stat. (2019) §169.89
(1) a violation which is committed in a manner or under circumstances so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property; or
(2) exclusive of [parking] violations … a violation of any of the provisions of this chapter, classified therein as a petty misdemeanor, when preceded by two or more petty misdemeanor convictions within the immediate preceding 12-month period; is a misdemeanor to which the provisions of subdivision 2 shall not apply.”
Catch-all Petty Misdemeanor Statute
Most criminal and traffic statutes include a penalty provision, but now if the legislature forgets to include one, the below statute provides a general penalty. So if a statute prohibits specified conduct without specifying a penalty, it’s a petty misdemeanor under this statute. Overly broad?
645.241 PUNISHMENT FOR PROHIBITED ACTS.Minn. Stat. §645.241 (2022)
“When the performance of any act is prohibited by a statute, and no penalty for the violation of the same shall be imposed in any statute, the doing of such act shall be a petty misdemeanor.”
Driver’s license record
The Court “certifies” driving and motor vehicle-related “convictions” to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. And Minnesota DPS then adds them to your driver’s license record. Sometimes suspension or other action against the driver’s license follows.
FAQ: Can police arrest a person for a petty misdemeanor?
No. Police who detain a person on suspicion of a petty, must release the person with a citation, without further arrest. Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure 6.01, subd. 1 (c). Police cannot lawfully arrest a person for a petty.
FAQ: Can you fight a petty misdemeanor charge?
Yes. You can fight every petty charge. And you should. After all, what do you have to lose? The worst that could happen is you end up with a violation on your record and a fine. But only by fighting it can you prevent a conviction record.
FAQ: Do you need a lawyer to fight a petty misdemeanor?
No. You can fight a petty without a lawyer. Is hiring a lawyer to fight a petty worth the cost? That could depend on whether the petty brings social stigma or impacts the driver’s license record. But it’s up to you to decide.
Even without a lawyer, no one wants their insurance rates to go up for a speeding ticket on their driver’s license record. And too many petty traffic violations within 12 or 24 months can also trigger an “habitual violator” license revocation. People in the medical or human services fields; can face occupational licensing or employment issues, even due to petty misdemeanor convictions.
We hope that this page has helped you understand the meaning of a “petty misdemeanor” in Minnesota. And though it is the smallest type of criminal law charge, it can still cause problems, worth avoiding.