Virginia, like all states, divides crimes into misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are less serious offenses and can be punished by jail time or a fine. More serious offenses are felonies and carry the potential of prison time.
Virginia uses four classifications for misdemeanor offenses: classes 1, 2, 3, and 4. Class 1 misdemeanors represent the most serious type of misdemeanors, while class 4 misdemeanors are the least serious. Below are the maximum penalties and examples of misdemeanor offenses by class.
If the law doesn't designate a misdemeanor class or set forth a particular punishment, the crime defaults to a class 1 misdemeanor.
Class 2 misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Aggressive driving, driving without a license, and possession of a schedule IV drug are class 2 misdemeanors in Virginia.
Class 3 misdemeanors are fine-only offenses (no jail time) with a maximum $500 fine. Examples include unlawful injury to property, failure to disperse, and trespass on school property.
Class 4 misdemeanors are the least serious of all the misdemeanor classes. Also a fine-only offense, the maximum penalty is a $250 fine. Public intoxication and open container violations are examples of class 4 misdemeanors.
(Va. Code §§ 18.2-8, -11, -12, -14 (2022).)
Defendants can face enhanced penalties (sometimes felony charges) if their current misdemeanor is a repeat offense or involved a protected class of victims, an increased risk of harm, or other aggravating factors.
For instance, the following offenses increase from a class 1 misdemeanor to a class 6 felony:
Some misdemeanor convictions carry mandatory minimum sentences. A judge, for example, must impose a minimum six-month sentence for simple assault committed as a hate crime. A second DWI conviction comes with a minimum of 10 or 20 days of jail time. Willful defacement of property that's gang related is a class 1 misdemeanor and carries a mandatory minimum fine of $500.
Only class 1 and 2 misdemeanors carry the possibility of jail time. (Class 3 and 4 are fine-only misdemeanors). Judges will typically consider the seriousness of the offense, harm to victims, and a defendant's prior criminal history when deciding on a sentence. The more serious an offense or offender is, the more likely a defendant will spend some time behind bars.
Misdemeanor sentencing options commonly include:
In some cases, the law allows the judge to defer or suspend a jail sentence and place the defendant on probation. A defendant who successfully completes the terms of a deferred sentence could have the charges dismissed. When a judge suspends a sentence, the defendant typically serves the sentence in the community rather than in jail. (Va. Code §§ 19.2-298, -298.02, -303,- 303.2, -305.1 (2022).)
Statutes of limitations are time limits for a prosecutor to file criminal charges in a case. A defendant can ask the court to dismiss any charges filed after the time limit passes. In Virginia, the time limit for most misdemeanors is one year after the crime was committed. Some misdemeanor offenses—such as larceny and fraud—have longer statutes of limitations of two, three, or five years. (Va. Code § 19.2-8 (2022).)
Criminal convictions, even for misdemeanors, can have very serious consequences. If you are charged with a crime, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney. A local defense attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system so that you can obtain the best possible outcome.