Historically, misdemeanors were defined in the common law as offenses resulting in a possible period of incarceration of less than one year. Crimes that involved a possible sentence in excess of one year were known as felonies.

New Hampshire law is based in part on these common law definitions. In New Hampshire, offenses are divided into three categories: violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. Violations are offenses for which no period of incarceration is possible. The maximum punishment for a violation is a fine, a possible loss of license or other administrative penalty, and, in rare circumstances, probation. Misdemeanors in New Hampshire are defined as offenses for which the maximum possible period of incarceration is 12 months in the House of Correction along with a fine, a period of probation, and, if it is a motor vehicle offense, a possible loss of driver’s license.

Offenses that result in a sentence of a year and a day or greater at the New Hampshire State Prison are known as felonies.

Misdemeanors in New Hampshire are divided into two categories: Class A and Class B. A Class A misdemeanor is one for which a person could be sentenced up to 12 months in the House of Correction. A Class B misdemeanor is a misdemeanor for which the government can not seek or obtain a period of incarceration.

Some crimes in New Hampshire are specifically defined as being either a Class A or a Class B misdemeanor. Because in New Hampshire one is entitled to a jury trial whenever there is a possibility of a period of incarceration, the legislature has classified certain misdemeanors as Class B in order to deprive the defendant of their otherwise constitutional right to a jury trial.

Other crimes have been specifically designated as Class A misdemeanors because the legislature believes that they are more serious, and that under some circumstances a period of incarceration might be warranted.

In the case of most misdemeanors, however, the decision to charge the offense as either a Class A or Class B rests with the prosecuting authority. The law requires that at the time that the charge is brought the prosecutor shall opt to bring the case as either a Class A or Class B, and shall so notify the defendant so that he or she has notice as to the level of offense he or she is facing.

In addition to the right to a jury trial, a Class A misdemeanor also grants to a defendant the right to state-appointed counsel if the defendant is indigent and can not afford counsel.

The above is provided as a summary of some of the laws in New Hampshire and should not be considered as an exhaustive list. For personal advice regarding any particular situation please contact a New Hampshire lawyer.