In Hawaii, a person convicted of a misdemeanor faces possible jail time, probation, fines, alternative programming, or a combination of one or more of these penalties. Some defendants may qualify for options that can avoid a criminal conviction.
This article will discuss penalties and sentencing options and alternatives for Hawaii misdemeanors. Information on more serious offenses can be found in Hawaii Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
Hawaii classifies misdemeanor penalties into two categories.
For some offenses, a crime starts as a petty misdemeanor but increases to a misdemeanor in cases involving increased harm or a vulnerable victim. For example, a theft conviction bumps up from a petty misdemeanor to a misdemeanor when the value of the stolen items or services exceeds $250. A person convicted of third-degree assault faces a misdemeanor penalty unless the fight or scuffle was mutual, in which case it's a petty misdemeanor.
Judges have several options at their disposal when sentencing misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor offenses, including jail time, probation, suspended and deferred sentencing, and payment of fines or restitution. The law also authorizes diversion and alternative programs.
Diversion programs are meant to keep low-level offenders out of the criminal justice system. Hawaii's law allows the court to divert persons charged with nonviolent petty misdemeanors to mental health treatment. If the person follows through with treatment and appears in court for status hearings, the judge can dismiss the charges, allowing the person to avoid a criminal record and conviction.
A person charged with a petty misdemeanor or misdemeanor may be eligible for Deferred Acceptance of a Guilty or No Contest Plea (DAGP or DANC). This option can also avoid a criminal conviction altogether if the person complies with the terms imposed by the judge. If granted, the judge holds off on accepting the person's plea. A defendant who successfully completes the program will have the charges dismissed. To qualify for this option, defendants must meet statutory requirements (certain charges do not qualify) and convince the judge that they won't commit another crime.
A judge may hand down a conviction but sentence a defendant to an alternative program instead of imposing jail time. Examples of these programs include house arrest, community service, and participation in treatment programs. Specialty courts, such as drug court, DWI court, and veterans treatment court, provide avenues for defendants to get help with mental health and substance abuse issues, while still being accountable to the justice system.
Another option for the judge is to hand down a sentence of incarceration but hold off on sending the person to jail—referred to as a suspended sentence. For petty misdemeanors and misdemeanors, a judge can suspend the sentence with or without placing the person on probation. If no probation is ordered, the suspended sentence is contingent only on the defendant remaining law abiding. When the judge orders probation, the defendant must remain law abiding and comply with other conditions, such as going to treatment, abstaining from substances, or doing community service. Violation of any of these terms allows the judge to modify the conditions or impose the suspended jail sentence.
Finally, the judge can sentence the defendant to spend time in jail, pay fines or restitution, or order any or all of these. First-time offenders typically don't face much jail time unless the law requires it or the particular offense warrants it. The court will look at the circumstances of the offense, the victim, the harm caused, and the offender's culpability when deciding on an appropriate sentence. Judges generally have the discretion to impose the options described above before resorting to time behind bars, which can disrupt a person's employment, school, or family responsibilities. If a victim suffered financial losses, the judge can order the defendant to pay restitution (compensate the victim for their losses). Another penalty option is payment of fines that generally go to the government coffers.
In some cases, Hawaii law provides enhanced penalties that increase a misdemeanor to a felony. An enhanced penalty might apply if an offender commits repeat offenses or targets someone in a protected class of victims.
For instance, repeat misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor property offenses can lead to a class C felony conviction. Sentencing for "habitual property crimes" applies when a defendant has at least two misdemeanors or three petty misdemeanor convictions for property crimes within the past ten years. Another example involves an assault targeted at certain victims. A third-degree misdemeanor assault becomes a class C felony when the offender knowingly assaults an elderly victim or a teacher, emergency response worker, or health care worker who's working in that capacity.
While a misdemeanor carries less serious penalties than a felony, a misdemeanor conviction can still have serious, negative consequences. For instance, any time in jail could potentially lead to the loss of your job (even if you're not convicted) and put you behind in rent or other payments. Having a misdemeanor conviction on your record can make it difficult to find a job, obtain housing, apply for loans, or qualify for a professional license. If you're facing any criminal charges, contact a criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights throughout the proceedings and help you obtain a favorable outcome. Local attorneys know the system, prosecutors, and judges well, which can be helpful in your defense.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 701-107, 706-605, 706-605.1, 706-606.5, 706-640, 707-711, 853-1, 853-4 (2021); State v. Eline, 778 P.2d 716 (Haw. Sup. Ct. 1989).)