Like many states, Wyoming distinguishes felonies from misdemeanors based on the amount of time a person could potentially spend behind bars. If a sentence allows incarceration for more than a year and up to life, the crime is a felony. Sentences of a year or less fall under the category of misdemeanors.
This article will discuss the penalty, sentencing, and expungement options for Wyoming misdemeanors.
Wyoming's misdemeanors generally fall under two classifications. Sometimes referred to as "high misdemeanors," these offenses carry up to a year in jail and fines between $1,000 and $5,000. Other misdemeanors, sometimes referenced as "low or petty misdemeanors," are punishable by up to six months' jail time and a $750 fine. If the law states a crime is a misdemeanor but doesn't specify the penalty, the crime defaults to a six-month jail sentence.
Misdemeanors include a wide range of offenses from low-level property crimes to simple assault, stalking, and disorderly conduct. High misdemeanor penalties often apply to repeat offenses or crimes involving a vulnerable victim or increased levels of harm or damage. For instance, the following crimes carry high misdemeanor penalties: reckless abuse of a vulnerable adult, repeat domestic assault or battery, and intimidation in furtherance of a criminal street gang.
(Wyo. Stat. §§ 6-10-101, -103 (2020).)
Sentencing options vary by crime in Wyoming and can include jail time, fines, diversion, probation, restitution, court fees, intensive supervision or treatment programs, and community service. Depending on the offense, the statute may also authorize extended probation periods. Let's review some of these options.
To qualify for the first-offender program, the defendant must get the prosecutor's consent and cannot have any prior felony convictions. (Certain offenses don't qualify for this diversion program.) The defendant must enter a guilty plea or plea of no contest, but the judge won't enter the conviction at that time. Instead, the judge places the defendant on probation for at least one year and up to three years, during which time the defendant must remain crime-free, report in with the court, pay restitution to victims, and obey other terms the court imposes. If the defendant successfully complies with probation, the court can dismiss the proceedings against the defendant (no conviction results). But a violation can mean a conviction and possible jail time. Participation in the first-offender program is strictly limited to one time only.
When sentencing misdemeanors, judges also have the option to suspend the imposition or execution of a sentence and place the defendant on probation. Suspending imposition of sentencing means to convict the defendant but hold off on handing down a sentence. When suspending execution of sentencing, the judge hands down the sentence but holds off on sending the defendant to jail.
In both cases, the sentence remains suspended only if the defendant complies with the probation terms, which could be attending counseling or addiction treatment, completing community service, abstaining from alcohol or drugs, or remaining crime-free. The judge can also require an employed defendant to continue working and be confined to jail during non-work hours—sometimes referred to as work release. Other available options include electronic monitoring, house arrest, drug testing, curfew checks, educational or vocational counseling, or participation in a court-supervised treatment program or 24/7 sobriety program.
If the defendant shows progress during probation, the law allows the judge to reduce the probationary term. On the flip side, the judge may extend, modify, or revoke probation for violations. If revoked, the judge proceeds with the case or sentencing as if the suspension never took place.
For low-level misdemeanors or first-time offenders, the judge will likely consider alternatives to jail time, such as probation, community service, or participation in a supervised treatment program. Defendants who qualify for the first-offender program have a chance to avoid a conviction (and criminal record) altogether. Offenders who cause bodily harm to a victim, commit repeat offenses, or don't comply with probation terms will likely face jail time.
(Wyo. Stat. §§ 7-13-301 to -305, -501, -1102, -1303, -1614, -1708 (2020).)
Wyoming law provides enhanced felony penalties for certain offenses where the offender has prior misdemeanor convictions, including for stalking, domestic battery, and impaired driving offenses. For instance, Wyoming incrementally increases the penalty for repeat impaired driving offenses (called DUIs). A person convicted of a fourth DUI in ten years faces a seven-year felony penalty. (Wyo. Stat. §§ 6-2-506, -511; 31-5-233 (2020).)
A person convicted of a misdemeanor can apply to the court to have their criminal record expunged (or sealed) after five years have passed from the completion of the sentence, including any terms of probation. Offenses involving firearms are not eligible for expungement. A health care provider who commits sexual battery against a patient also doesn't qualify.
(Wyo. Stat. § 7-13-1501 (2020).)
Statutes of limitations set a time limit for prosecutors to begin criminal prosecutions. Wyoming is one of two states that have no statutes of limitations for any crimes, meaning the state can generally file charges at any time after the offense is committed.
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.