Massachusetts law treats any crime as a misdemeanor if it doesn't carry a potential punishment of incarceration in state prison or death, which are reserved for felonies.
Read on to learn about penalties and sentencing options for misdemeanor charges in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts doesn't group misdemeanors into different classes (like class A and B) for purposes of sentencing. Instead, the criminal statutes for individual crimes spell out the potential penalties—which in turn determine whether the crimes are misdemeanors. If the potential punishment carries time in jail or a house of corrections, the crime is a misdemeanor. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 274, § 1 (2023)).
In most states, jail time for misdemeanors is usually limited to a year or less. In Massachusetts, however, misdemeanors may be punished by as much as 30 months (2 ½ years) in jail or a house of corrections and a fine.
Examples of misdemeanors in Massachusetts and their penalties include:
Some misdemeanors carry enhanced felony penalties when the crime targets a protected victim or the defendant has similar prior convictions. Other misdemeanors impose mandatory minimums or increased fines. Below are some examples.
Repeat misdemeanors. Committing certain repeat misdemeanor crimes can result in a minimum sentence, an enhanced felony charge, or both. For instance, a person convicted of a second or subsequent harassment and stalking crime will face an enhanced felony charge that includes a minimum 2-year sentence and a maximum 10-year sentence. Another example is a repeat domestic assault crime, which becomes a wobbler offense carrying either a 30-month or 5-year sentence.
Protected victims. Massachusetts also imposes harsher penalties for certain misdemeanors committed against protected victims. As an example, assault and battery committed against a police officer, EMT, ambulance operator, or healthcare provider carries a minimum 90-day jail sentence and a minimum $500 fine. Stealing from an elderly victim (60+) or person with a disability can increase a 12-month sentence to 30 months or potentially 10 years.
Hate crimes. A person who commits a misdemeanor hate crime may also face increased penalties. Committing assault, battery, or property damage when motivated by bias or hate can result in increased incarceration times, fines, and restitution. The law permits a judge to impose fines of up to $5,000 and restitution of up to three times the amount of property damage for these offenses. Battery resulting in bodily injury, when motivated by bias, can result in a 5-year state prison sentence.
(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, § 24; ch. 265, §§ 13A, 13D, 13I, 13M, 39, 43, 43A; ch. 266, § 30 (2023).)
Judges may impose any sentence that doesn't exceed the maximum set in law. When deciding a sentence, the judge usually looks at the circumstances of the offense and a defendant's criminal history. A first-time offender who committed a non-violent offense might receive minimal jail time or no jail time at all, whereas a repeat offender who caused a victim bodily harm would likely get a jail sentence. In some cases, the judge must impose the minimum sentence provided in the law.
Massachusetts law also provides sentencing alternatives to jail, including:
Other options that may avoid jail include deferred sentencing, continuances without a finding, or diversion. Generally, these all come with conditions—some more onerous than others.
(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 7; ch. 279, §§ 1, 6A (2023).)
Even though a misdemeanor conviction isn't as serious as a felony conviction, it can still have negative consequences—including substantial time in jail and more severe penalties if you have another conviction in the future. And some misdemeanor convictions make immigrants subject to deportation.
So if you're facing misdemeanor charges, speak to a criminal defense lawyer who can explain how the law applies to your situation, negotiate a plea bargain if that's appropriate under the circumstances, represent you at trial if it comes to that, and protect your rights throughout the proceedings.