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 reviews misdemeanor classifications and penalties, provides examples of misdemeanor offenses, and explains how misdemeanor sentencing works.
Missouri divides 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.
Class A misdemeanors carry up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Examples of class A misdemeanors include assault in the fourth degree, rioting, harassment, and sexual abuse in the second degree.
Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Examples include public intoxication, driving while intoxicated, and identity theft.
Class C misdemeanors can be punished by up to 15 days in jail and a $750 fine. Examples of class C misdemeanors include highway littering, animal neglect, and refusal to disperse.
Class D misdemeanors are fine-only offenses, meaning there's no possibility of jail time. The maximum fine is $500. Driving with a revoked license, unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia, and minor in possession of alcohol are examples of class D misdemeanors.
The judge can order higher fines than those noted above if a defendant gained any money or property as a result of a crime. Defendants can face up to double the amount of the criminal proceeds (money or property). The judge may allow payment of fines in installments.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 543.270, 557.016, 558.002, 558.011 (2022).)
The laws for many crimes in Missouri require stiffer penalties when a defendant has one or more previous convictions for the same crime—or sometimes for related crimes. Below are some examples.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 565.091, 565.227, 570.030, 577.001, 577.010, 579.015, 579.074 (2022).)
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. §§ 557.035, 565.056, 569.120.1 (2022).)
Generally, it's up to the judge to hand down the sentence upon a misdemeanor conviction. If convicted after a jury trial (which is only required in misdemeanor cases if the defendant or the prosecution requested it), the jury will decide on the appropriate punishment within the legal limits for the crime after hearing evidence on issues like the defendant's 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.
The more serious the offense is, the more likely a defendant will spend some time behind bars. For instance, someone convicted of a misdemeanor involving violence, weapons, or a child victim would be more likely to spend time in jail than someone convicted of vandalism or shoplifting. Repeat offenders could also see jail time, as they haven't "learned their lesson." The judge can typically order any incarceration time up to the maximum—so a first-time offender might spend a few days in jail, while a repeat or violent offender might be looking at months.
In some cases, the judge may suspend the jail sentence for a misdemeanor and place a defendant on probation. The probation conditions could include community service, treatment programs, work release, restitution payments to the victim, or house arrest with electronic monitoring. A violation of probation means the judge can take away probation and send the defendant to jail.
Some offenses may qualify for a prosecution diversion program, which keeps the offense out of the criminal justice system. Prosecutors' offices set up the criteria for eligibility, but some offenses are automatically deemed ineligible, including violent offenses, sexual offenses, and offenses involving a firearm or child victim. A defendant who successfully completes the program may have their charges dismissed.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 557.011, 557.014, 557.036, 558.011, 558.019, 559.021, 559.115, 559.120 (2022); State v. Van Horn, 625 S.W.2d 874 (Mo. Sup. Ct. 1981).)
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.
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. An attorney can help you minimize these consequences. You can also seek advice on expunging your record.