Like many states, Kansas distinguishes felonies from misdemeanors based on the amount of time a person could potentially spend behind bars. Sentences of a year or less fall under the category of misdemeanors. If the statute allows incarceration for more than a year, the crime is a felony.
Kansas divides its misdemeanor offenses into four classes: class A, B, C, and unclassified misdemeanors. This article will discuss the penalty, sentencing, and expungement options for Kansas misdemeanors.
Kansas classifies misdemeanor penalties as follows:
Misdemeanors include a wide range of offenses from low-level property crimes to battery, disorderly conduct, and harassment. Less serious offenses often fall under the class C misdemeanor category, while more serious offenses fall under the class A misdemeanor category. (Offenses punishable by a fine only—no incarceration—are referred to as infractions.) Kansas further divides offenses into person offenses (such as battery) and nonperson offenses (such as theft).
The seriousness of an offense often depends on the victim, level of harm, damage, or motive. For example, battery carries a class B misdemeanor penalty, but battery of a school official increases the penalty to a class A misdemeanor. Theft penalties increase as the amount stolen increases. Offenses targeting children or elderly adults often carry stiffer penalties as well.
(Kan. Stat. §§ 21-5413, -5427, -5801, -6203, -6602, -6611 (2020).)
Judges have several options at their disposal when sentencing misdemeanor offenses. The law also allows prosecutors to utilize diversion options, which presents a chance to avoid a criminal conviction altogether. A first-time offender might qualify for diversion or probation, while a repeat offender would more likely spend time in jail.
Under a diversion agreement, the prosecutor (county or district attorney) agrees to have the misdemeanor charges dismissed if the defendant successfully completes agreed-upon terms. These terms might include remaining crime-free, paying a program fee, paying victim restitution, and attending counseling. While diversion has its advantages, the decision to offer diversion stands with the prosecutor (it's not guaranteed) and requires the defendant to give up certain rights, like the right to a trial, to confront and question witnesses, and to contest the evidence.
Certain offenders won't qualify for diversion, such as those with repeat DUI or domestic violence offense convictions. For certain alcohol-related offenses involving minors, the minor must agree to an alcohol and drug evaluation and follow any recommended treatment. (Kan. Stat. §§ 22-2907, -2908, -2909 (2020).)
If the offender is convicted, the judge can order one or more of the following sentencing options:
(Kan. Stat. § 21-6604 (2020).)
Probation refers to a suspended sentence. Instead of handing down the sentence or sending the defendant to jail, the judge orders the defendant to comply with certain terms, such as remaining crime-free, abstaining from substances, or completing community service. The judge can order a probation term for up to two years for misdemeanors, subject to a two-year suspension.
A judge can suspend imposition of sentence (SIS) or execution of sentence (SES). SIS means that the judge suspends entering a conviction and sentence. If the defendant successfully completes probation, the judge closes the case without entering a conviction on the record. SES refers to a situation where the judge sentences the defendant but suspends the jail time. Upon successful completion, the defendant's sentence is complete but will show up on the record. Violation of either SIS or SES probation can result in jail time. (Kan. Stat. §§ 21-6607, -6608 (2020).)
Kansas law also provides a probation sentencing option for veterans who assert they committed the offense as a result of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or major depressive disorder connected to their service. If the defendant meets the eligibility requirements, the court may order the defendant to report to a Veterans' Administration entity and follow any treatment recommendations. (Kan. Stat. § 21-6630 (2020).)
The law also allows a judge to grant a defendant early discharge from a sentence if the defendant is assessed as low-risk, pays all restitution, and complies with probation for at least 12 months. In a similar vein, a court may release a person held in jail prior to the end of the sentence and place the person on court parole (similar to probation in this case). (Kan. Stat. §§ 21-6603, -6604 (2020).)
Kansas law provides enhanced penalties for certain offenses where the offender has prior convictions. For instance, Kansas' domestic battery statute requires a minimum sentence for repeat misdemeanor offenders. On a third or subsequent misdemeanor domestic battery conviction, a defendant faces felony charges and a minimum sentence. As another example, Kansas incrementally increases the penalty for repeat impaired driving offenses (DUIs). A person convicted of a first DUI faces a class B misdemeanor, but on the fourth DUI in ten years, the penalty increases to a nonperson felony. (Kan. Stat. §§ 8-1567, 21-5414 (2020).)
In most cases, a person can apply to have their misdemeanor conviction and related arrest or diversion records expunged (or sealed) in Kansas after three years have passed since completion of the sentence, probation, or diversion agreement. A person must wait five years after a first DUI and ten years for subsequent DUI convictions before becoming eligible for expungement. More information on expungement petitions is available on the state's judicial branch website. (Kan. Stat. § 22-6614 (2020).)
Prosecutors face time limits—called statutes of limitations—for filing criminal charges. Kansas requires prosecutors to file most misdemeanor charges within five years of the offense. Learn more about how criminal statutes of limitations work in this article. (Kan. Stat. § 21-5107 (2020).)
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 (even pretrial) could potentially lead to the loss of one's job and income. And, having a misdemeanor conviction 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.