Misdemeanors are criminal offenses which generally result in less than a year of jail time.
The Virginia Code categorizes all misdemeanors into one of four different classes.
Class 1 misdemeanors are the most serious, while Class 4 misdemeanors are generally only punished with small fines.
A misdemeanor conviction will usually result in fines, jail time, and a mark on your 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.
In this article, we’ll go over each of the four 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?
As noted above, the Virginia Code categorizes most misdemeanors into one of the four major misdemeanor classes, depending on the severity of the crime.
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 affect your life, such as months in jail and fines of several thousand dollars.
Note that misdemeanors are also not the same thing as civil infractions.
While small infractions such as speeding tickets are still serious, they’re something separate from criminal misdemeanors.
Additionally, some crimes can fall into multiple misdemeanor classes depending on the specific facts of the case.
For example, some drug possession charges can fall under several different misdemeanor classes depending on the Schedule type of the drug.
This is one of the reasons that having trustworthy legal representation is so important.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can often lower these sentences by arguing for penalties from a lower class.
Class 1 Misdemeanors
As mentioned above, Class 1 misdemeanors are the most serious variety of misdemeanor in Virginia.
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.
Additionally, they may also face other consequences based on the nature of their crime.
For example, Virginia courts often suspend 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 six 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.
As with Class 1 misdemeanors, the court may set other penalties as well, such as the suspension 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, for Class 4 misdemeanors the maximum fine that can be imposed is $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 without Intent to Steal — 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 either 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 — Public intoxication falls under the same law as “profane swearing” in public, although this code section 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.
The key takeaway here is that Virginia law allows the court a lot of leeway when it comes to sentencing individuals charged with misdemeanors.
For this reason, it’s critically important that you contact a lawyer as soon as possible after being charged with a crime.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you navigate through the sometimes complex legal system.
Knowing about Virginia’s misdemeanor classes, and what they mean for sentencing, will help you understand your options after a criminal charge.