Many people think of misdemeanors as minor offenses and may not be worried when they are charged with one. However, some misdemeanor convictions do result in jail time and significant fines and can have consequences in your personal and professional life. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you need a skilled defense attorney just as you would if you were charged with a felony. It’s important to understand the classes of a misdemeanor and why you should take these charges seriously.
How Misdemeanors Are Classified in Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia categorizes criminal offenses as either felonies or misdemeanors according to their potential sentences. Any offense that is punishable by death or confinement in a state prison is considered a felony. All other offenses fall into one of four classes of misdemeanor. Class 1 misdemeanors carry the harshest punishments and Class 4 charges are considered the least serious. Here is a brief look at these classes:
- Class 1. The most serious misdemeanors fall into this class. These include charges such as driving under the influence (DUI), reckless driving, stealing property valued at under $200, assault and battery, domestic assault, indecent exposure, possession of Schedule III drugs (anabolic steroids, codeine, ketamine, etc.), and trespassing. The maximum possible sentence for a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia is 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine, in addition to other penalties such as loss of driving privileges.
- Class 2. Class 2 misdemeanors include charges such as aggressive driving, driving without a license, possession of drug paraphernalia, and illegal possession of Schedule IV drugs, which include sedatives such as Xanax and Valium. The maximum sentence for conviction is six months in jail and a fine of $1,000.
- Class 3. Possession of a Schedule V controlled substances such as cough medicine with codeine, as well as destruction of property with intent to steal, are considered Class 3 misdemeanors. Punishment for an offense in this category does not include jail time but may result in a fine of up to $500.
- Class 4. The least serious crimes are considered Class 4 misdemeanors. These charges may include public intoxication, as well as possession of substances that are commonly abused, such as inhalants. If convicted, you could be fined up to $250.
It’s important to remember that even if you are only charged with a Class 4 misdemeanor and get off with a $250 fine, you will have a criminal conviction on your record, which can have long-lasting consequences.
Legal Process for Misdemeanor Charges
In Virginia, misdemeanor charges are heard by a judge in General District Court (GDC). The prosecutor’s office will present evidence of your crime and may call witnesses to the stand. You will have the opportunity to defend yourself with evidence. While this trial is similar to what you may have seen on TV, there is no jury, no long opening statements, and the judge usually renders a verdict immediately after both sides have presented their cases. The proceeding is usually fast-paced, and it is easy for the accused to feel overwhelmed.
When facing a misdemeanor, you will likely be approached by the prosecutor before trial to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced charge or for a more favorable sentence. This saves the court time and money, but it may not be the best option for you. You should not agree to a deal without consulting an attorney. In fact, you should call a criminal defense attorney as soon as you can after your arrest.
Why You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer for a Misdemeanor
Too often, people charged with misdemeanors think they can handle their own cases. While it does cost money to hire a defense attorney, the results are often well worth it. Even if you are guilty, an attorney may be able to get the charges reduced or even dismissed if your constitutional rights were violated. If you are not guilty, an attorney can present evidence and witnesses to convince the judge of your innocence. A guilty verdict could mean months in jail and hundreds of dollars in fines, as well as a criminal conviction on your record that could affect your ability to get a job or a loan.
If you are charged with a misdemeanor in Virginia, don’t risk your future. Call Quest Law PLLC to talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney today.