Last updated on January 16th, 2019
In Virginia, a misdemeanor is any crime with a maximum sentence of a year or less of jail time. That doesn’t mean they aren’t serious, however. A misdemeanor conviction can still result in fines, jail time, and a permanent criminal record. For this reason, it’s important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible if you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor.
However, one common area of confusion centers on the different types of misdemeanors in Virginia, often called misdemeanor classes. In this article, we’ll go over each of the five different misdemeanor classes in Virginia. We’ll also discuss the penalties you can expect if you’re charged with a misdemeanor from one of these classes.
What is a Misdemeanor?
Virginia divides its misdemeanor penalties into four major classes, depending on the severity of the crime. Class 1 misdemeanors have the greatest possible penalties, while Class 4 misdemeanors have the smallest. Lastly, Virginia also has a few unclassified (“Class U”) misdemeanors for crimes which don’t fit neatly into the other classes.
Generally, misdemeanors are crimes that result in a prison sentence of a year or less. You can compare this to felonies, which normally result in prison sentences of more than one year.
While misdemeanors are not as serious as felonies, they’re still criminal charges that will show up on your criminal record. They also carry significant enough penalties to seriously affect your life, such as months in jail and fines of several thousand dollars.
Note that misdemeanors are also not the same thing as minor traffic infractions. While small infractions such as speeding tickets are still serious charges, they’re still something separate from criminal misdemeanors.
Additionally, some crimes can fall into multiple categories of misdemeanor, depending on the specific facts of the case. For example, drug possession charges count as different misdemeanors based on the Schedule type of the drug. This is one of the reasons that having trustworthy legal representation is so important. An experienced criminal lawyer can often lower these sentences by arguing for penalties from a lower class.
Class 1 Misdemeanors
As mentioned previously, Class 1 misdemeanors are the most serious variety. Anyone found guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor faces a fine of up to $2,500 and/or up to 1 year in jail. Additionally, they may also face other consequences based on the nature of their crime. For example, Virginia courts often revoke the licenses of individuals convicted of DUI offenses.
Some of the most commonly charged Class 1 misdemeanors include:
- Reckless Driving – This includes driving at more than 80 miles per hour, driving 20 miles per hour or more over the posted speed limit, or driving in an obviously unsafe way.
- Driving Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol (DUI) – Virginia law considers a driver intoxicated if their blood-alcohol content is 0.08 percent or higher.
- Assault and Battery – Assault is the desire to cause harmful or offensive contact with another person, battery is actually doing so. This includes purely verbal contact, such as threats.
- Petit Larceny – Petit Larceny is stealing less than $5 from another’s person, or less than $500 from a place not on another person (such as shoplifting).
- Drug Possession Charges – Certain possession charges also count as Class 1 misdemeanors. Possession of a Schedule III controlled substance, such as hydrocodone or anabolic steroids, would fit this penalty.
Class 2 Misdemeanors
Class 2 misdemeanors are generally less serious than the crimes found in Class 1. However, Virginia law still treats them pretty harshly. Anyone found guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor faces a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to 6 months in jail. Common examples of Class 2 misdemeanors include:
- Driving Without a License (First Offense) – The first offense of driving without a license is a Class 2 misdemeanor. Virginia treats a second offense, as well as the act of driving on a suspended license, as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
- Illegal Possession of a Schedule IV Controlled Substance – These are drugs with a low potential for abuse, such as many prescription antidepressants. Possession of drug paraphernalia is also a Class 2 misdemeanor in Virginia.
As with Class 1 misdemeanors, the court may set other penalties as well, such as the revocation of driving privileges.
Class 3 and Class 4 Misdemeanors
Class 3 and 4 misdemeanors are the least serious misdemeanor classes. Virginia courts generally punish these crimes with fines instead of jail time. For Class 3 misdemeanors, a judge can fine you up to $500. Meanwhile, fines for Class 4 misdemeanors are usually less than $250.
As one other note on sentencing, while these lower charges generally don’t come with jail time, that option isn’t entirely off the table. Especially for repeat offenders, courts can add additional penalties depending on the circumstances of the case.
Some common examples of Class 3 misdemeanors include:
- Unintentional Vandalism – Any kind of unintentional damage to property counts as a Class 3 misdemeanor. Note that Virginia treats vandalism committed in an attempt to steal as a class 1 misdemeanor, or sometimes even a felony, depending on the value of the item.
- Possession of a Schedule V Controlled Substance – Like the Schedule IV classification, this list includes many prescription drugs with low potential for abuse.
In a similar manner, Class 4 misdemeanors include crimes such as:
- Public Intoxication – Punishable through the same law also prohibits “profane swearing” in public, although this is almost never enforced.
- Unauthorized Use of Public Property – Any unauthorized use of public property will generally result in a Class 4 misdemeanor charge. For example, trespassing onto a cemetery at night is punishable as a Class 4 misdemeanor.
- Illegal Possession of a Schedule VI Controlled Substance – Schedule VI is a sort of catch-all category for drugs not included on the rest of the list.
Undefined (Class U) Misdemeanors
Sometimes, the Virginia Code lists an crime as a misdemeanor but never specifies a specific class. These are sometimes referred to as “Class U” misdemeanors. The penalties for these types of misdemeanors generally fall somewhere between the Class 3 and Class 2 penalties outlined above.
The most common 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.
The key takeaway here is that Virginia law allows the court a lot of leeway when it comes to sentences for misdemeanors. For this reason, it’s critically important to contact a lawyer as soon as you’ve been charged with a crime.
An experienced criminal lawyer can help you navigate a possible plea deal to reduce your charges to a different misdemeanor class. Alternatively, they may also convince the judge to dismiss the charges altogether. Knowing about Virginia’s misdemeanor classes, and what they mean for sentencing, will help you understand your options after a criminal charge.