As in most states, felonies in Washington are crimes that may be punished by time in state prison. In contrast, misdemeanors in Washington are less serious crimes that are punishable by less than a year in county jail.
Washington has three classes of felonies. The law describing any particular felony will say whether it's class A, B, or C. That designation then determines the maximum penalties for the crime.
The most serious crimes in Washington are class A felonies. The maximum penalties for almost all Class A felonies are life in prison and/or a $50,000 fine. The exception is aggravated first-degree murder, which must be punished by life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 2018, the Washington Supreme Court struck down the death penalty for this crime as unconstitutional "as applied," because it was "imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner." In a separate case, the same court found that the requirement for a sentence of life without parole was unconstitutional when applied to juvenile defendants. (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9A.20.021, 10.95.020 (2019); State v. Gregory, 192 Wash.2d 1 (Wash. Sup. Ct. 2018); State v. Bassett, 192 Wash.2d 67 (Wash. Sup. Ct. 2018).)
Other examples of Class A felonies in Washington include:
(Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9A.32.055, 9A.32.060, 9A.32.050, 9A.36.011, 9A.44.050, 9A.56.200 (2019).)
In Washington, a class B felony conviction can result in a prison term of up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to $20,000.
Examples of class B felonies include:
(Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9A.20.021, 9A.32.070, 9A.46.110, 9A.52.025, 9A.56.065, 9A.56.300, 9A.56.310 (2019).)
A class C felony in Washington is punishable by up to five years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Examples of these lower-level felonies include:
(Wash. Rev. Code § 9A.20.021, 9A.36.031, 9A.36.041, 9A.56.040, 9A.90.100 (2019).)
A criminal statute of limitations is the deadline for beginning the prosecution of a defendant. The time period begins when the alleged crime was committed. Generally, the more serious the crime, the longer the statute of limitations. For some crimes—like murder and child molestation, there’s no time limit on when charges can be filed in Washington. The shortest criminal statute of limitations for felonies is three years. (Wash. Rev. Code §9A.04.080 (2019).)
A felony conviction can have serious long-term consequences, even after you’ve served time in prison. Among other things, a felony record can make it difficult to obtain a professional license or a job. If you’re facing felony charges, it’s critical that you consult with a qualified Washington criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney who’s experienced in this area can explain how the law applies to your situation, lay out your options, and help you get the best possible outcome under the circumstances—which might involve negotiating a favorable plea bargain if that’s appropriate.
Look Out for Legal Changes
Because states can change their laws any time, you may want to check out the current version of Washington statutes discussed in this article. You should know, however, that court decisions may affect how laws are interpreted and applied—another reason to talk to a lawyer if you're worried about actual or potential criminal charges.