In Missouri, misdemeanors are crimes that generally carry a potential punishment of up to a year in jail—although the least-serious misdemeanors are punishable by only a fine. This article explains how misdemeanor sentencing works in Missouri, the maximum jail sentences and fines for different types of misdemeanors, when you might get a stiffer sentence than the standard one, and sentencing alternatives to jail. (See our separate article on felonies in Missouri to learn about sentencing for these more-serious crimes.)
Generally, it’s up to the judge to hand down the sentence when you’ve been convicted of a misdemeanor. If you were convicted after a jury trial (which is only required in misdemeanor cases if you or the prosecution requested it), the jury will decide on the appropriate punishment within the legal limits for the crime (as discussed below) after hearing evidence on issues like your background, the circumstances surrounding the crime, and the impact on the victim. However, Missouri courts have held that the jury’s decision is really only a recommendation for the judge. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 557.036 (2020); State v. Van Horn, 625 S.W.2d 874 (Mo. Sup. Ct. 1981).)
For purposes of sentencing, Missouri groups misdemeanors into four classes, with Class A as the most serious and Class D as the least serious. The law establishes a standard maximum punishment for each class of misdemeanor, as follows:
However, if you gained any money or property as a result of a crime, the fine could be higher than the limit for that class of misdemeanor, up to double the amount of your gain. The judge may allow you to pay the fine in installments.
A jail sentence for a misdemeanor will be for a fixed amount of time. (Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 543.270, 557.016, 558.002, 558.011 (2020).)
The laws for many crimes in Missouri require stiffer penalties than the standard punishment for that class of misdemeanor when you have one or more previous convictions for the same crime—or sometimes for related crimes. For instance:
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 565.091, 565.227, 570.030, 577.001, 577.010, 579.015, 579.074 (2020).)
Under Missouri law, some crimes that are normally misdemeanors—including fourth-degree misdemeanor assault and second-degree property damage—will be treated as felonies if the motivation for the crime was based on the victim’s race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or disability. (Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 557.045, 565.056, 569.120.1(1) (2020).)
In some cases, the judge may suspend the jail sentence for a misdemeanor and place you on probation. The probation conditions could include community service, participation in a treatment program, work release, paying restitution to the victim, or house arrest with electronic monitoring. (Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 557.011, 558.011, 558.019, 559.021, 559.115, 559.120, (2020).)
There are some legal matters you can handle on your own, without a lawyer. But as a general rule, criminal charges aren’t one of them. Even though misdemeanors aren’t as serious as felonies, having a misdemeanor conviction on your record could still make it difficult to get a job, rent housing, or obtain a professional license. It could also subject you to a harsher sentence if you get in trouble with the law again. Anytime you’re charged with a crime, it’s important to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can help you mount the best defense possible, explore plea bargaining options when that’s appropriate, and protect your rights throughout the proceedings.