What is a Misdemeanor Charge in Virginia
What is a Misdemeanor Charge in Virginia?
Dealing with any kind of criminal charge can be very stressful. Oftentimes, people are confused about the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony, different kinds of misdemeanors, possible punishments, and their options for defending themselves in court. If you or a loved one are trying to figure out what to do about a criminal charge, the first thing you should do is consult an experienced criminal attorney. In the meantime, here is some background on misdemeanors:
What Kind of Crimes Are Considered Misdemeanors?
Under Virginia law, there are two major categories of crimes, misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are considered less serious crimes, and are punishable by up to twelve months in a local jail. However, in many cases the sentence may be much shorter, or the defendant may get probation, depending on many factors. Felonies are considered to be more serious, and are punishable with time in state prison. In some cases, a defendant may get years or even a life sentence if convicted of a felony.
Although a misdemeanor is considered to be a less serious charge, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s not important. Sometimes people believe they don’t need a lawyer for a misdemeanor. Other times they may have been told that they can just pay a fine, or that they will likely get probation if they’re a first-time offender.
While these things may be true in some situations involving misdemeanor charges, it’s important to remember that a misdemeanor conviction still results in a criminal record. This may impact your ability to get a job or housing, or get into college, or it could cause other difficulties any time a background check is involved. It can also be problematic if you face other criminal charges in the future, even if they are not related. You should also remember that if you are placed on probation, there are numerous restrictions that are easy to violate, and probation violations can lead straight to jail.
If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor, be sure to speak with an attorney so you understand all your options, and the potential consequences if you do decide to plead guilty.
Different Classes of Misdemeanors
Misdemeanors are categorized as Class I, Class II, Class III, and Class IV. Here are some of the differences:
- Class I. Under Virginia law, these are considered the most serious misdemeanor charges. They can be punished with up to twelve months in jail and/or a $2,500 fine. Some examples of crimes that may be charged as Class I misdemeanors include petit larceny, driving under the influence, reckless driving, assault and battery, disorderly conduct, and domestic violence.
- Class II. These can carry a sentence of up to six months in jail, and/or a $1,000 fine. Possession of a Schedule IV drug, driving without a license, displaying a fictitious vehicle permit, and certain second custody or visitation order violations are all examples of Class II misdemeanors in Virginia.
- Class III. This class of misdemeanors is punishable with up to a $500 fine, but no jail time. Driving without car insurance, violating a custody or visitation order, willful misconduct by a notary, using reflective window tinting, and possession of a Schedule V substance are all Class III misdemeanors in Virginia.
- Class IV. Another less serious misdemeanor, a Class IV charge can carry a fine of up to $250 and is also ineligible for jail time. While this may not seem like a big deal, it still counts as a criminal conviction that can complicate your life for years. A first conviction for public intoxication, drinking/having an open container while operating a motor vehicle, and possession of a Schedule VI substance are all Class IV misdemeanor charges.
As you can see from the above list, it’s very easy for a simple mistake or misunderstanding, such as not knowing the state laws about window tinting, to lead to a misdemeanor criminal conviction in the state of Virginia. In other cases, defendants may get a criminal conviction because they couldn’t afford to pay their car insurance bill one month, or had a misunderstanding about a custody arrangement.
Do Misdemeanors Go Away in Virginia?
In most cases, no. In the state of Virginia, misdemeanors stay on your record and are permanently available to the general public, unless the record is “sealed” or expunged. In many cases, records are sealed for cases involving juveniles. For adults, Virginia’s policy on expungement is much more strict. While some states will allow people convicted of misdemeanors to apply for expungement if they’ve completed their sentences, Virginia does not allow this. You can only request expungement if you were pardoned by the governor, or were charged but not convicted of the misdemeanor. Since it’s difficult to get a pardon, a misdemeanor conviction usually means a permanent criminal record.
What is a Misdemeanor Battery Charge?
Sometimes people confuse assault and battery. Although they are punished under the same code in Virginia law, they are defined differently. Assault usually refers to a threat, while battery is defined as touching another, willfully and in anger. Battery may include the touching of another person with objects such as weapons, or in some cases, dogs. For example, if the defendant tells their dog to go bite someone, and the dog does it, that would count as battery. With assault charges, the threat of battery needs to be imminent, so threatening someone over the phone is usually not sufficient for an assault charge.
Virginia law states that accidental, non-reckless touching is not battery, and this may be one possible defense to a battery charge. In other situations, the defendant might argue the touching was consensual. For example, if someone agrees to a boxing match with you, they can’t claim battery because you hit them while in the ring. You may also argue that the touching was self-defense. Your attorney can advise you on the best strategy for your particular case.
The fact that someone insulted the defendant or treated them poorly is not considered a reasonable defense for battery. However, in some cases this may be considered a “mitigating circumstance” and might be taken into consideration during sentencing.
What is a Misdemeanor Domestic Battery Charge?
Virginia law defines a misdemeanor domestic battery charge as assault and battery against a family member. Battery can include hitting, punching, pushing, shoving, slapping, spanking, beating, striking, or throwing the other person. The definition of “family members” can include other people the defendant lives with, such as a girlfriend or boyfriend, in-laws, or even a roommate.
Under Virginia law, police officers are required to arrest a “predominant physical aggressor” if they have sufficient probable cause to believe a domestic assault occurred. This is different than with simple assault and battery charges, where typically the victim files charges and then the police make an arrest. With domestic battery charges, the police have the responsibility to bring charges against the primary physical aggressor.
Because the Commonwealth of Virginia is bringing the charges in this case, a defendant can still be charged even if the victim does not want to press charges. This makes the victim a witness in the prosecution’s case, and it is entirely up to the Commonwealth if they want to pursue the case. (However, in some cases, the Commonwealth may decide not to pursue the case if they feel the witness would be too uncooperative.)
A misdemeanor domestic battery charge can result in up to a year in prison and/or a $2,500 fine. A second offense, involving domestic assault or battery, strangulation, or certain other violent crimes, that occurs within twenty years, can be categorized as a Class 6 felony. This can lead to one to five years in prison.
DWI Misdemeanors in Virginia
Virginia law places first and second Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) charges as Class I misdemeanors. Typically these are punishable with up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine. However, in some cases the penalty may be slightly increased if the defendant was found to have a blood alcohol level of .15 or higher. Defendants who are found guilty can also be sentenced to anywhere from one to three years of driver’s license suspension, mandatory alcohol education classes, and probation.
There are many possible defenses for DWI charges. In some cases, your attorney may question the legality of the stop, or how the law enforcement officers maintained their Breathalyzer equipment. There may also be other issues with how breath or blood tests were performed, such as how long officers waited to do a test, or how the evidence was handled. There are specific rules about who can collect blood samples, under what circumstances, and how they must be stored and transported to a lab for analysis. Your Virginia criminal law attorney will go over the case with you and advise you on possible strategies.
In general, misdemeanor charges can be more serious than they seem. If you or a loved one have been charged with a misdemeanor, please contact us for a free consultation.