Five Things to Know About Misdemeanor Sentencing

Many people think that the sentence for a misdemeanor conviction is merely a slap on the wrist, but the reality can be much different. You could spend as much as just under a year in jail and have to pay thousands of dollars in fines.

Your best bet is to avoid a conviction in the first place, and a Washington criminal defense attorney can help you try to do that. Here are five things to know about misdemeanor sentencing:

Possible Jail Time You Could Face for a Misdemeanor or Gross Misdemeanor Conviction

While a judge can sentence a defendant to something other than jail time, like probation or a suspended imposition of sentence, our state laws in RCW 9A.20.021 authorize sentences of jail time in the county jail:

  • Of up to 90 days for misdemeanor convictions, and
  • No more than 364 days in the event of a gross misdemeanor conviction.

These sentences only apply to adult offenders.

The Fines the Court Can Assess for Misdemeanor or Gross Misdemeanor Convictions

The same statute sets the maximum fines a judge can assess upon a conviction at:

  • Not more than $1,000 for a misdemeanor, and
  • Up to $5,000 for a gross misdemeanor.

Another option open to the sentencing judge is to sentence the defendant to jail time and assess a fine instead of one or the other.

Which Offenses Can Be Misdemeanors

A crime that is not a felony or a gross misdemeanor can be a plain misdemeanor. Here are a few examples of misdemeanors in Washington State:

  • Shoplifting
  • Stealing a shopping cart or being in possession of a stolen shopping cart
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Indecent exposure
  • Prostitution or patronizing a prostitute
  • Failing to obey an order from law enforcement to disperse.

This list is by no means comprehensive.

Which Offenses Can Be Gross Misdemeanors

Gross misdemeanors are more significant offenses than plain misdemeanors but not as serious as felonies. Here are some things that can get charged as gross misdemeanors in Washington State:

  • The first offense of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, unless the incident involves factors that qualify for enhanced charges
  • Property theft up to a value of $750
  • Stealing television subscriptions services
  • Stalking – but some forms of stalking can be felonies, such as when there is a protective order in place.
  • Violations of a domestic violence order of protection – but this also can be a felony, depending on the specific circumstances.

Many other actions can get charged as gross misdemeanors.

How a Misdemeanor or Gross Misdemeanor Conviction Can Affect Your Life

You might think that after you pay the fine, serve your jail time, or complete probation, a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor conviction is in your past and cannot affect your life. Nothing could be further from the truth. You will have to disclose past criminal convictions on job applications, apartment lease applications, and other important documents. 

When a criminal conviction appears in your background check, the criminal record could keep you from landing your dream job, getting a promotion, or getting into the college of your choice. It is possible to lose your job and your professional license because of a criminal conviction.

To try to minimize the potential fallout of a misdemeanor conviction and sentence, you might want to work with a Washington criminal defense attorney from the beginning. Get in touch with our office today.

DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights, and some general information on various aspects of criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.