Like many states, Vermont distinguishes misdemeanors from felonies based on the amount of time a person could potentially spend behind bars. Sentences of two years or less fall under the category of misdemeanors. If the statute allows incarceration for more than two years, the crime is a felony.
This article will discuss the penalty, sentencing, and expungement options for Vermont misdemeanors. For felony sentencing, check out Vermont Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
While many states divide misdemeanor penalties into classifications (such as class A or level 1 misdemeanors), Vermont specifies penalties on a crime-by-crime basis. The law defines a misdemeanor as any crime that's not a felony. Felonies include offenses punishable by incarceration of more than two years, meaning misdemeanors carry maximum sentences of two years or less. (Vt. Stat. tit. 13, § 1 (2021).)
Below are examples of misdemeanor sentences (maximum penalty listed).
Most Vermont misdemeanors carry maximum penalties of one or two years' incarceration. But as you can see above, a few go as low as a 10-day sentence. Generally, judges can impose any sentence up to the maximum specified in the law.
Judges have several options at their disposal when sentencing misdemeanor offenses, including diversion, deferred sentencing, probation, restorative justice, and incarceration. As part of a sentence, the judge must usually consider restitution for victims and may order fines, court fees, and applicable surcharges. (Vt. Stat. tit. 13, § 7030 (2021).)
Vermont's diversion program aims to keep certain low-level offenders out of court. A prosecutor may refer the following individuals to the program:
Offenders must voluntarily agree to participate and sign a contract that lists their responsibilities. Once in the program, all records of the charges remain confidential. Upon successful completion of the program, the prosecutor dismisses the charges and, after two years, the court and law enforcement seal the record—as long as the person has remained crime-free and the court is satisfied with the person's rehabilitation. Failure to complete the program means the prosecutor can reinstitute the original charges. (Vt. Stat. tit. 3, § 164 (2021).)
If a case proceeds to court and the offender is found guilty, the court may choose to defer sentencing and place the offender on probation, subject to terms and conditions. Deferred sentencing is not an option for "listed crimes," such as domestic assault, stalking, violent misdemeanors, and crimes against children. (Find "listed crimes" in title 13, section 5301(7).)
If the individual violates the terms of the deferred sentence, a judge may impose the sentence. But upon successful completion of the terms, the court strikes the adjudication of guilt, discharges the case, and expunges the entire record (from arrest to sentencing). (Vt. Stat. tit. 13, § 7041 (2021).)
For nonviolent misdemeanors, the judge may refer a person who pled guilty to a community reparative board. Under the board's supervision, the person must complete a restorative justice program that focuses on offender accountability and repair of harm done by the offense. The offender must return to court for further sentencing if the offender fails to complete the program. (Vt. Stat. tit. 28, §§ 910, 910a (2021).)
A judge may also choose to place an offender on probation. Here, the judge imposes the sentence but holds off on sending the offender to jail. Remaining in the community is contingent on the offender's compliance with the probation terms. A violation of probation can result in a modification of probation terms or revocation and incarceration.
Administrative probation. For individuals convicted of qualifying low-level, non-person crimes (for example, petit larceny, retail theft, or driving on a suspended license), the court may order administrative probation, which requires only that the probationer remain law-abiding and register with probation.
Supervised probation. Other probationers fall under supervised probation. Conditions of supervised probation may include maintaining employment, completing community service hours, undergoing treatment, paying restitution, participating in restorative justice, and not contacting the victim.
Probation for misdemeanors cannot exceed two years unless the court finds a longer period is necessary. A judge can terminate probation early if the probationer's good conduct warrants it. Unlike diversion and deferred sentencing, successful completion of probation still results in a conviction, but usually, the offender will avoid time behind bars. (Vt. Stat. tit. 28, § 205 (2021).)
Vermont is one of just a handful of states with a unified corrections system. While most states sentence misdemeanants to jail time and felons to prison time, Vermont has a unified correctional system that serves all offenders—regardless of offense level (misdemeanor or felony) or status (pretrial detainees, probation or parole violators, and sentenced offenders).
A person who commits repeat misdemeanors (predicate offenses) can be looking at a felony sentence. For instance, domestic assault increases from a misdemeanor to a five-year felony for a second conviction. The same enhanced penalty applies to repeat stalking convictions. Other misdemeanor convictions can also be used as predicate offenses to enhance the penalty for a subsequent conviction. (Vt. Stat. tit. 13, §§ 1044, 1063 (2021).)
Vermont law authorizes expungement of most misdemeanor offenses if the person remains crime-free for two years after completion of the sentence. The wait period can increase up to ten years if a person is convicted of a subsequent offense. Certain misdemeanors cannot be expunged, including "listed offenses," violent misdemeanors, sex offense misdemeanors, protection order violations, domestic assault, and stalking convictions.
As of January 1, 2021, old misdemeanor marijuana convictions (involving less than two ounces) will be automatically expunged (Vt. Act 167 (2021).). This area of law keeps changing—check out this website for more information. And keep checking back as the recent trend in states is expanding eligibility. (Vt. Stat. tit. 13, §§ 7601, 7602 (2021).)
In nearly all states, prosecutors face time limits—called statutes of limitations—for filing criminal charges. Vermont requires prosecutors to file misdemeanor charges within three years of the offense. Learn more about how criminal statutes of limitations work in this article. (Vt. Stat. tit. 13, § 4501 (2021).)
While a misdemeanor carries less serious penalties than a felony, a misdemeanor conviction can still have serious, negative consequences. For instance, any time behind bars could potentially lead to the loss of your job or 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.