In North Dakota, a person charged with a crime faces either a misdemeanor or felony conviction. The offense level depends on the maximum possible sentence available under the law. For misdemeanors, the maximum jail time is 360 days. If a person faces more than 360 days and up to life behind bars, the penalty becomes a felony.
North Dakota divides its misdemeanor offenses into two classes: class A and B misdemeanors. This article will discuss the penalties, sentencing, and expungement options for North Dakota misdemeanors. (For more information on felonies, see North Dakota Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.)
North Dakota law classifies misdemeanor penalties as follows:
If a misdemeanor offense doesn't specify a classification in law, it defaults to a class A misdemeanor.
Offenses punishable by a fine only (up to $1,000) fall under the classification of infraction. A traffic ticket is a common example of an infraction. Infractions don't involve jail time. However, a person who commits three infractions for the same offense within one year's time can be charged with a class B misdemeanor and face jail time.
Class A and B misdemeanors include a wide range of offenses, including low-level assault, trespass, and property crimes, among others. The classification often reflects the seriousness of the offense, based on the victim, level of harm or damages, the offender's criminal history, or the offender's motive. Less serious offenses tend to be classified as class B misdemeanors, while more serious offenses or offenders could face class A misdemeanor penalties.
For instance, domestic violence carries a class B misdemeanor penalty for a first-offense involving bodily harm. A repeat offender faces a class A misdemeanor, as does a first-time offender who inflicts substantial bodily harm on another. In cases of theft, the value of the property stolen determines the penalty. A person who steals property valued at less than $500 faces a class B misdemeanor. But if that same offense involves threats or embezzlement, the penalty moves up to a class A misdemeanor. (N.D. Cent. Code §§ 12.1-17-01.; 12.1-23-05; 12.1-32-01 (2020).)
The law provides judges with several options and alternatives for misdemeanor sentencing. In some cases, an offender could get the charges dismissed and avoid a conviction and public criminal record.
After a guilty plea or verdict, a judge can choose to place the defendant on probation without handing down the sentence. This option is referred to as a deferred imposition of sentencing. This deferral gives the defendant a chance to avoid a conviction record by successfully completing the probation terms. These terms could include remaining crime-free, attending counseling, or completing community service (to name a few).
If the defendant successfully completes the terms, the judge may set aside the verdict or plea and dismiss the charges, which works to seal the defendant's record as well. (See more on sealing records below.) If the defendant violates or doesn't complete probation, the deferment ends and the judge can impose a sentence. (N.D. Cent. Code §§ 12.1-32-02, 12.1-32-07.1; 12.1-32-07.2 (2020).)
A judge can also impose any or all of the following misdemeanor sentencing options:
As noted above, a judge can order supervised or unsupervised probation. Probation allows the defendant to serve out the entire or part of the sentence in the community rather than jail. When placing a defendant on probation, the judge might order the defendant to remain crime-free, complete community service or treatment, maintain employment, attend post-secondary classes, or be subject to a curfew, home confinement, or electronic monitoring. Probation can also include jail time.
For most misdemeanors, except those involving domestic violence, weapons, or sex offender registration, the law specifies a presumption of probation. Presumptive probation means judges must order probation unless they can justify aggravating factors that support sending the offender to jail.
A judge can place a defendant on probation for up to two years. However, the judge can extend the probation term upon a violation.
(N.D. Cent. Code §§ 12.1-32-02, 12.1-32-06.1, 12.1-32-07, 12.1-32-07.4 (2020).)
North Dakota law provides enhanced felony penalties for certain offenses where the offender has prior misdemeanor convictions. For instance, a stalking conviction results in a class A misdemeanor but increases to a class C felony if the offender has a prior conviction involving the same victim. Identity theft also increases from a class A misdemeanor to a class C felony upon a second or subsequent conviction. Other crimes might increase from a misdemeanor to a felony based on the circumstances of the crimes, such as the level of harm (bodily versus serious bodily harm), victim (adult versus child victim), or amount of damage. (N.D. Cent. Code §§ 12.1-17-07.1, 12.1-23-11 (2020).)
In 2019, North Dakota enacted a law authorizing expungement (or sealing) of misdemeanor criminal records if the offender remains crime-free for three years after completion of the sentence. Sealing a record doesn't make it disappear, but the law prohibits disclosure of its contents and existence without a court order. A person must apply for an expungement in court. (Offenses requiring sex offender registration don't qualify for sealing.)
(N.D. Cent. Code §§ 12-60.1-01, 12-60.1-02 (2020).)
Prosecutors face time limits for filing criminal charges—called statutes of limitations. Criminal charges filed after the time limit can be dismissed. North Dakota law requires prosecutors to file most misdemeanor charges within two years of the offense. Learn more in our article on Criminal Statutes of Limitations. (N.D. Cent. Code § 29-04-03 (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 could potentially lead to the loss of your job or even your housing (even if you're not convicted). Having a misdemeanor conviction 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.