Virginia Criminal Law.
Misdemeanors and Felonies: What’s The Difference in Punishment?
By Trevor D. Anderson
There are two types of crimes that you can be charged with in the Commonwealth of Virginia; misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are offenses for which, by statute, you can receive a sentence of up to 12 months in jail and/or up to a $2,500 fine. Felonies are more serious and, depending on the charge and the circumstances of the case, may carry up to a $100,000 fine and life imprisonment or, in some extraordinary cases, even the death penalty.
Misdemeanors are divided into classes as follows:
Class 1 Misdemeanors
These are the most serious misdemeanors in Virginia. Again, anyone found guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor faces a maximum fine of up to $2,500 and/or a prison sentence of up to 12 months.
Some of the most commonly charged Class 1 misdemeanors include Reckless Driving, DUI, Petit Larceny (Shoplifting), Assault and Battery, Driving Without a License, 2nd or Subsequent Offense, and Possession of schedule I, II or III Controlled Substance.
Class 2 Misdemeanors
These are generally less serious than Class 1 crimes, but are still treated harshly.
Anyone found guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor faces a maximum fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to 6 months in jail. Common examples of Class 2 misdemeanors include Possession of a Schedule IV Controlled Substance and Driving Without a License, 1st Offense.
Class 3 and Class 4 Misdemeanors
These types of misdemeanors are generally the least serious and Virginia courts generally punish them with fines instead of active or suspended jail time. For Class 3 misdemeanors, a judge can fine you up to $500, while the maximum fine that can be imposed for a Class 4 misdemeanor is $250. Some common examples of Class 3 misdemeanors include Possession of a Schedule V Controlled Substance and Unintentional Vandalism. Class 4 misdemeanors include crimes such as Illegal Possession of a Scheduled VI Controlled Substance and Public Intoxication (Drunk in Public).
Undefined (Class U) Misdemeanors
There are a few misdemeanors that are not specifically classified within the Virginia Code, which are
often referred to as “Class U” misdemeanors. The most common example of a “Class U” misdemeanor is the Unlawful Possession of Marijuana by a First Offender. This crime is punishable by a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail. Most Class U misdemeanors change to a normal class of misdemeanor after the crime meets a certain requirement. For example, while a first offense of marijuana possession is a Class U misdemeanor, a second or subsequent offense counts as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Felonies are divided into classes as follows:
Class 1 Felonies
Under Virginia law, the most serious felonies are Class 1 felonies, punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000. If the defendant was over the age of 18 at the time of the offense and not mentally impaired, Class 1 felonies may also be punishable by death. The prime example here being Premeditated Murder under special circumstances.
Class 2 Felonies
A Class 2 felony is punishable by imprisonment for 20 years to life and a fine of up to $100,000. Common examples include: Murder, Aggravated Malicious Wounding, and Burglary with a Deadly Weapon.
Class 3 Felonies
A conviction for a Class 3 felony can result in a prison term of 5 to 20 years and a fine of up to $100,000. Common examples include Malicious Wounding and Attempted Poisoning.
Class 4 Felonies
A Class 4 felony is punishable by 2 to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000. Common examples include Pimping and Embezzlement.
Class 5 Felonies
Class 5 felonies are “wobblers,” crimes that can be either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on how the crime is charged and, sometimes, how the judge or jury decides to treat a conviction. Class 5 felonies in Virginia are punishable by: 1 to 10 years in prison when the conviction is a felony, or up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500 as a misdemeanor. The most common examples here include Involuntary Manslaughter and Battery.
Class 6 Felonies
Class 6 felonies are the least serious felonies in Virginia. Like Class 5 felonies, Class 6 felonies are wobblers, punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison (felony), or up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500 (misdemeanor). Common examples include Animal cruelty and Petit Larceny 3rd or Subsequent Offense.
If you have been charged with any crime in Virginia, regardless of whether or not it is a misdemeanor or a felony, it is crucial that you meet with an experienced attorney right away so that he or she can evaluate your case and help you formulate a strategy going forward. For more information or to schedule a consultation regarding your criminal case in Hampton Roads, feel free to contact our office at: (757)873-1188.