Misdemeanor crimes in New Mexico are divided into two categories – petty misdemeanors and misdemeanors. Any misdemeanor crime is less serious than a felony. Misdemeanor crimes usually are distinguished from felonies by the seriousness of injury caused to another person, the cash value of property taken, or the amount of drugs in a person’s possession and whether there is proof of intent to sell or distribute the drugs.
For information on felonies, see New Mexico Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
A petty misdemeanor is the least serious crime in New Mexico for which a person can be sentenced to time in jail. (Traffic offenses are less serious than petty misdemeanors but are only punishable by fines and possibly suspension of your driver’s license.) As described above, simple battery is a petty misdemeanor, as well as shoplifting items with a value under $250, graffiti (property damage under $1,000), and disorderly conduct.
Misdemeanors are more serious crimes than petty misdemeanors. Battery against a household member such as a spouse or live-in girlfriend or boyfriend is domestic violence and considered more serious than battery against a stranger or acquaintance. Other misdemeanors include shoplifting items with a value over $250 but less than $500, trespassing on private property, or possession of drug paraphernalia (materials for ingesting illegal drugs such as pipes or syringes, or for packaging, growing or manufacturing drugs).
Each petty misdemeanor crime may have its own sentencing limits, such as 30 days in jail or a fine up to $100. The sentence for a petty misdemeanor in New Mexico can never be more than six months in jail or a fine up to $500, or both.
Each misdemeanor crime also may have its own sentencing limits such as 30 days in jail or a fine up to $500. The sentence for a misdemeanor in New Mexico can never be more than one year in jail or a fine up to $1,000, or both.
Under New Mexico law, the judge has discretion to decide what sentence a defendant will receive in a misdemeanor case. Unless the crime carries a mandatory minimum such as 10 days in jail, the judge can sentence the defendant to unsupervised or supervised probation rather than jail. The harshness of a sentence usually depends on factors such as the defendant’s criminal record, the extent of injury or damage caused, and even the defendant’s attitude toward the court and the justice system.
New Mexico’s criminal statute of limitations requires that a criminal prosecution begin within a certain amount of time after a crime is committed or believed to have been committed. This law limits the length of time the state can wait before filing charges against a person. If the limitation is one year, for example, the prosecutor cannot file charges once the year has passed, because the court will be required to dismiss the case. For more information on the criminal statute of limitations in New Mexico, see Criminal Statute of Limitations article.
A conviction for a misdemeanor crime can become part of your permanent criminal record. If you are convicted later of another crime, the court can consider your prior conviction and impose a harsher sentence in the new case. A conviction for even a minor crime can hurt you when you are looking for a job, applying to rent a house or apartment, or applying for a professional license. A person convicted of possession of an illegal substance – even a tiny amount for personal use only – can be barred from ever receiving federal financial aid for students. A conviction for domestic violence battery can have serious consequences under the federal Violence Against Women Act.
An experienced attorney can determine whether you have any grounds for dismissal of the charges against you, explore plea options, or represent you at trial. Only someone familiar with the local criminal court system and cases like yours will know how good your chances are for a favorable outcome in court or at the negotiating table. A knowledgeable attorney will take all of this into consideration, assist you in making decisions about your case, and protect your rights.