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Petty Misdemeanor

What is a Petty Misdemeanor?


A petty misdemeanor is a small violation, prohibited by a statute.  But it’s not a crime.

It has a maximum sentence of a fine only, of $300 or less.  Minnesota Statutes Section 609.02, subd. 4a; Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure 23.01.

The law does not allow arrest or jail, before or after “conviction.”

Can result in a public “conviction” record

speeding ticket - usually a petty misdemeanor
speeding ticket – usually a petty misdemeanor

In Minnesota, even though a petty misdemeanor violation is “not a crime;” the charge does result in a “conviction” (unless a non-conviction outcome such as dismissal).

Though this should not damage a person’s reputation, occupational licensing and job prospects, it may.  Better to avoid this legal and social ambiguity by avoiding even a petty conviction.  A good defense attorney can help accomplish that.

What about a Misdemeanor “certified as a Petty” or on the courts “payables list”? 

A misdemeanor charge can result in a petty conviction three ways:

  1. The sentence is within petty limits, or
  2. The prosecutor “certifies” the misdemeanor charge as a petty, or
  3. The misdemeanor is on the 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.”

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 charge as a petty misdemeanor?

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.  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” will show the misdemeanor charge. This can have serious consequences

We should not allow the prosecutor to strip the accused of her right to a jury trial, against her will. Because this creates a public record of conviction of a misdemeanor charge, even with a petty sentence.

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.

So, a “payable offense” conveys: “a charge for which a person can pay a fine without going to court.”  Just paying the fine results in conviction.

As reviewed above, 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 (small amount – plant form).  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.

In addition, 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? 

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.  (Petty is more common.)

Driver’s license record

Driving and motor vehicle-related convictions are certified to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety for inclusion on the driver’s license record. And sometimes suspension or other action against the driver’s license follow.

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.

We hope that this page has helped you understand the meaning of a petty misdemeanor in Minnesota.  Though it is the smallest type of criminal law charge, it can still cause problems.

Minnesota Criminal Lawyer Thomas Gallagher
Minnesota Criminal Lawyer Thomas Gallagher

No one wants their insurance rates to go up for a speeding ticket on their driver’s license record.  Too many petty traffic violations within 12 or 24 months can also trigger an “habitual violator” license revocation.  And people working in the medical or human services fields can face occupational licensing or employment issues, even due to petty misdemeanor convictions.


Call Minneapolis Defense Lawyer Thomas Gallagher at 612 333-1500