Criminal charges in Washington range from misdemeanors to serious felonies. However, most minor crimes are categorized as misdemeanors. And a judge will use guidelines in the law to determine the sentence for such a crime.

Even though misdemeanors are not as serious as felonies, you may face jail time if found guilty. While most misdemeanors carry a penalty of up to 3 months in jail and fines of up to $1,000, the judge will take into account other factors such as your criminal history, standing in the community, victim statement, etc. That’s why it’s crucial to speak to a Seattle criminal defense lawyer about your case to understand what penalties to expect.

What Is a Misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is a minor crime, the least serious among all criminal offenses. Some examples of a misdemeanor include shoplifting, driving without a valid driver’s license, vandalism, disorderly conduct, and petty theft.

Simple Misdemeanor Charges

Simple misdemeanors are prosecuted in municipal and district courts. For a simple misdemeanor, the maximum sentence is 90 days in a city or county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. A judge can impose jail time, a fine, or both.

First-time offenders often don’t get anything close to the maximum sentence, and may not get jail time at least. However, if convicted, you are likely to be fined. Generally, a judge will order a longer jail term if your case has other factors that make the charges more serious.

Gross Misdemeanor Charges

A gross misdemeanor is more serious than a simple misdemeanor but less severe than a felony charge. Some examples of a gross misdemeanor include reckless driving, fourth-degree domestic assault, and third-degree theft. A DUI (driving under the influence) in Washington can be charged as a gross misdemeanor rather than a felony if it’s a first offense.

Gross misdemeanor charges carry a maximum penalty of up to 364 days and a fine of up $5,000. A judge can give one or both penalties. Just as in a simple misdemeanor, expect harsher penalties if you have a criminal record.

Some gross misdemeanor charges have a mandatory minimum sentence. A judge cannot give a less sentence than what is set as the minimum mandatory sentence. Examples of such charges include some domestic violence crimes, and multiple offense DUI convictions. Remember, the maximums are only set for sentencing limits and are not in any way, guaranteed punishment.

Can a Drug Crime Be a Misdemeanor?

The penalties outlined for the Washington state drug crimes or VUCSA are found in the RCW 69.50 Act. This act can be confusing, and that’s why you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you understand your charges and the specific punishment you may be facing.

In Washington, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is legal for adults. However, possession of more than one ounce of marijuana but less than 40 grams is considered a simple misdemeanor that can attract a penalty of up to 1 year of jail time and a maximum fine of $1,000.

For persons under the age of 21, possession of any quantity of marijuana is illegal. Apart from the penalties of a simple misdemeanor, under 21-year-olds convicted of possession of less than 40 grams of marijuana will have their driver’s licenses revoked for a year.

Are There Other Penalties I May Receive for a Misdemeanor in Washington?

If the judge convicts you of either simple or gross misdemeanor, there is a likelihood you will also receive probation. During your probation, you will be allowed to stay in your community but outside of jail. You will also be supervised and have restrictions on your normal lifestyle like drinking or driving.

The judge may also set additional conditions to be met by you, such as attending a mandatory alcohol class (which is probable if your charge involved alcohol). If probation terms are violated, a judge can decide to revoke your probation and impose jail time instead. Misdemeanor probation can sometimes last up to 2 years.

Consequences Later in Life

A misdemeanor conviction can hurt you beyond today. Such a record can show up when a potential employer conducts a background search on you, and this might limit your job opportunities. Some locations restrict the issuance of professional licenses to people with misdemeanor records.

While misdemeanors bear consequences down the road, it’s best to seek legal help no matter the charges you are up against.

Penalties Vary

Being given the maximum sentence in Washington is not mandatory under state law. You will not automatically get three months in jail for a simple misdemeanor. An aggressive criminal defense attorney in King County can negotiate your jail time sentence for alternatives such as probation.

How Can I Reduce My Sentence?

As an offender facing a misdemeanor charge, you can positively influence the judge and perhaps reduce the penalty’s magnitude. You can do this by proactively dealing with the dominant issues that led to the offense.

For instance, a DUI offender could seek treatment and undergo professional evaluation before the judge orders it. This way, you will be showing the judge that you are taking the matter seriously; you are remorseful and are willing to do anything to avoid a future recurrence of the offense. Consequently, you will avoid harsh punishments that will save you both time and money.

Get Experienced Legal Help

A misdemeanor charge can quickly end up in a jail sentence. Additionally, a conviction can significantly impact your future as a professional, student, employee, or tenant. You need legal help to prevent or minimize these effects.

A dedicated settle criminal defense attorney will fight for your rights and freedom, whether you want a plea bargain or wish to have your charges dismissed. Talk to a lawyer about your case, and build a proper defense strategy for your misdemeanor charges.