For purposes of sentencing, New Mexico divides lower-level crimes into two categories—misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors. More serious crimes are felonies. Offenses that aren't considered crimes—such as possession of a small amount of marijuana or most traffic violations—don't carry a potential jail sentence but are punished with fines.
Read on for details on New Mexico's standard sentences for misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors, when you might be subject to stiffer sentences, and when you may be able to avoid jail after a conviction.
Once you've been convicted of a misdemeanor or petty misdemeanor, the judge will decide on the appropriate sentence, within the legal limits for your crime. New Mexico law sets the general penalties for misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors, as follows:
However, some individual crimes have maximum penalties that are lower than six months, and some have mandatory minimum sentences. For example:
(N.M. Stat. §§ 30-1-6, 30-19-1, 30-33a-4, 31-19-1, 66-8-102 (2020).)
New Mexico law treats some misdemeanors as a felony if you have one or more previous convictions for the same offense. For instance:
(N.M. Stat. §§ 30-3-15, 30-3-17, 30-3a-3 (2020).)
As discussed above, judges usually have the option of imposing a fine instead of jail time for a misdemeanor or petty misdemeanor (unless the crime carries a mandatory minimum jail sentence). However, there's another sentencing option: The judge may impose a jail sentence and then defer or suspend the sentence (in whole or in part) and place you on probation, with or without supervision. The probation period may not be longer than the maximum jail sentence for that crime. (N.M. Stat. §§ 31-19-1, 31-20-5, 31-20-6 (2020).)
As with all of their sentencing decisions (within the legal limits), judges consider various factors when deciding whether to defer or suspend a sentence, such as the circumstances surrounding the crime, the defendant's background and criminal record, and potential danger to the public.
Generally, the factors that distinguish misdemeanor crimes from felonies—as well as misdemeanors from petty misdemeanors—include the level of any property loss, the level of injury or risk to the victim, the victim's status (such as an elder, child, or household member), and the amount of drugs in a person's possession. For instance, pushing someone during an argument would generally be considered simple battery, which is usually a petty misdemeanor in New Mexico. However, if you attack someone in way that could cause serious injury, you could be charged with felony aggravated battery. (N.M. Stat. §§ 30-3-4, 30-3-5 (2020).)
Here are some other examples of misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors in New Mexico:
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, obtain a professional license, or qualify for certain government benefits. It could also subject you to a stiffer sentence if you get in trouble with the law again. Anytime you're charged with a crime, you should with an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can evaluate your case, determine whether you have any grounds to get the charges dismissed, obtain the best possible outcome under the circumstances, and help protect your rights throughout the proceedings.