Like most states, Indiana distinguishes misdemeanors from felonies by how much time a person could spend behind bars. Misdemeanors carry the potential of up to a year in jail. If a crime carries a potential punishment beyond a year's incarceration, the law classifies the crime as a felony.
This article will review misdemeanor penalty, sentencing, and expungement options in Indiana.
Indiana uses three misdemeanor classifications—Classes A, B, and C—with Class A being the most serious and Class C the least.
Class A misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. Examples of class A misdemeanors include battery (resulting in bodily injury), petty theft, public indecency, and rioting.
Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Public intoxication, criminal mischief to property, disorderly conduct, and harassment are examples of class B misdemeanors.
A person convicted of a Class C misdemeanor faces up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. Examples of class C misdemeanors include possession of drug paraphernalia, reckless driving (no injuries), and use of a fake ID.
The law imposes felony charges for certain repeat misdemeanor crimes and misdemeanors committed against protected persons. Examples of repeat misdemeanors that may be elevated to a felony include domestic battery, selling drug paraphernalia, obstruction, and financial exploitation. A misdemeanor can also bump up to a felony if committed against a protected person, such as an endangered adult or public safety official. Battery and fraud are two examples.
In certain cases, a judge may reduce a Level 6 felony to a misdemeanor. Check out our article on Indiana felony sentencing to learn more.
Not every misdemeanor conviction results in jail time. Judges tend to have a lot of discretion when it comes to misdemeanor sentencing. The court may place a defendant on probation or in a problem-solving court or order alternative sanctions, such as community service or payment of victim restitution. And in some cases, a defendant might even avoid criminal court and a record through a diversion program.
Judges consider numerous factors when determining what sentence to impose, from the circumstances of the offense and any harm caused to the defendant's criminal rap sheet and remorse (or not) for the crime.
Indiana's law allows prosecutors to hold off on pursuing misdemeanor charges if the defendant agrees to participate in a pretrial diversion program. If available, pretrial diversion offers a defendant a chance to avoid criminal court and a conviction.
Pretrial diversion programs often come with terms similar to probation, such as obeying all laws, maintaining employment, attending educational courses, or receiving addiction or mental health treatment. The terms might also require the defendant to pay fines, fees, and restitution. If a defendant successfully completes the terms, the prosecutor typically drops the charges.
Not all prosecutors' offices have diversion programs. And in those that do, the eligibility requirements and terms often vary. Generally, prosecutors reserve pretrial diversion for first-time non-violent offenders. The law prohibits pretrial diversion for certain motor vehicle offenses, including intoxicated driving charges.
The law also permits courts to defer prosecution in certain misdemeanor cases where a defendant pleads guilty.
For instance, a judge may hold off on entering a conviction against a first-time offender charged with misdemeanor drug possession. Instead, the judge imposes conditions on the defendant. If the defendant fulfills the conditions, the judge may discharge the proceedings.
In other cases, a judge may defer proceedings and place the defendant in a problem-solving court program. These programs involve intensive supervision to address underlying issues that likely contributed to a defendant's criminal behavior, such as addiction, mental health issues, or trauma. When entered as part of deferred prosecution, the judge may dismiss the proceedings upon successful completion.
A judge may place a defendant in a problem-solving court as a condition of deferred prosecution (described above), probation, or a misdemeanor sentence. As noted above, these courts are highly structured with intensive supervision. A team of professionals oversees a defendant's participation in the program, which could be a drug court, mental health court, domestic violence court, veterans' court, or another program. The judge may award incentives or impose sanctions, depending on a defendant's compliance with the terms. Generally, the probation or sentencing terms outline the disposition upon completion or termination from the program.
When imposing a misdemeanor sentence, the judge can order the defendant to serve some or all of the sentence in jail. A judge might suspend part of the jail sentence and place the defendant on probation for up to a year (2 years if substance abuse treatment is required).
Probation allows a defendant to serve their sentence supervised in the community and conditioned on compliance with probation terms. Terms often include obeying all laws, reporting to a probation officer, completing community service, attending counseling or treatment, staying away from victims, getting or maintaining a job, and paying fines and restitution. A judge can also require the defendant to serve short jail stints or be placed on home detention. A violation of probation allows the judge to modify probation terms or revoke the suspension and impose the jail sentence.
Indiana allows individuals to petition for expungement of most misdemeanor records five years after the date of conviction, as long as all fines, fees, and restitution related to the case are paid. The person must have no pending charges or new convictions. The law prohibits the expungement of certain misdemeanors, such as sex offenses and misconduct by public officials. Anyone with two prior felonies on their record involving a deadly weapon is disqualified from seeking expungement.
Prosecutors in nearly all states must file criminal charges within a set amount of time specified in statute. These time limits—called statutes of limitations—prevent stale charges from being prosecuted and encourage prompt resolution of cases. For most misdemeanors in Indiana, the law requires prosecutors to file charges within two years from the commission of the offense. If the prosecutor files charges after the time limit expires, a defendant may ask the court to dismiss the charges.
A criminal conviction, even for a misdemeanor, can have a lasting effect on your life. If you are charged with a crime, talk to a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney can tell you how your case is likely to be treated in court based on the law, the facts of your case, and the assigned judge and prosecutor.
(Ind. Code §§ 33-23-16-13, - 14; 33-39-1-8; 35-38-1-7.1; 35-38-2-2.3; 35-38-9-2; 35-41-4-2; 35-48-4-12; 35-50-3-1, -2, -3, -4 (2021).)