How To Handle A Misdemeanor Charge In Washington State
In the State of Washington, the law classifies most minor crimes as misdemeanors. This post will help you understand the possible penalties associated with a misdemeanor and what you can do to reduce your sentence.
Misdemeanors are further classified as gross misdemeanors and simple misdemeanors.
Simple: You can be charged with a misdemeanor for crimes like petty theft, disorderly conduct, trespassing, vandalism, and possessing more than an one ounce (but less than 40 grams) of marijuana. These crimes carry a maximum of 90 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
Gross: Driving Under the Influence (DUI) can be charged as a gross misdemeanor rather than a felony if it is a first offence. Other charges of this magnitude include reckless driving and domestic assault. Gross misdemeanor crimes carry a maximum of 364 days in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.
However, these maximums are set as a limit for sentencing rather than a guaranteed punishment. Your specific penalties will depend on the seriousness of the offense and your previous criminal history.
Other Penalties and Restrictions
If you are convicted of either misdemeanor classification you may also receive probation, which can have various lifestyle restrictions, such as not being permitted to drink alcohol, drive, own a gun, or have contact with other parties involved in the crime. Misdemeanor probation can sometimes last up to two years.
How To Reduce Your Sentence
When facing a misdemeanor charge you can impress the judge and possibly reduce your sentence if you are proactive about addressing the issues that led to the crime. This might include getting an evaluation and seeking treatment. If your charge is drug or alcohol related, this could be required as part of your sentencing anyway.
Evaluations and Treatment Programs
After a DUI, most people are ordered to undergo a professional evaluation. Doing this prior to seeing the judge will show him or her that you are taking the incident seriously. We generally suggest that clients follow the recommendations of the evaluation immediately– whether it’s an eight-hour class or two years of intensive treatment. Starting and completing the recommended treatment before sentencing can help you avoid harsh punishment and possibly save you thousands of dollars in probation fees.
If you are convicted of a domestic crime (spousal assault, child endangerment, etc.) you will likely have to attend and complete a batterer’s treatment program. There can be many advantages to getting a domestic violence evaluation and enrolling in the recommended counseling early on in your case.
For some offenses the judge may convert jail time and/or fines to community service. In most cases, the sentence is reduced to one day in jail or 8-20 hours of community service, and fines are frequently converted to one hour of community service for every $10 fined. The court will require proof of the community service hours you complete on official agency letterhead. It must be signed by a supervisor, include the number of hours worked, and if possible, note the work that was done.
Character References and Your Personal Statement
In general, your lawyer will speak on your behalf at sentencing, but you do have the right to speak with the judge about your case. This should be heartfelt and brief, showing that you take responsibility for your actions without disputing the charges or arguing about the facts of the case. Sometimes it is also appropriate to provide the judge with a character reference or letter of recommendation written by a friend or family member. In either case, we will help you create statements that present a positive picture of your life and circumstances.
Taking these steps to show the judge that you are remorseful and dedicated to avoiding future charges will be a great advantage in your case, as will having the proper representation. However, be certain that before taking any of the above steps and certainly before presenting any of the steps taken to a judge it is important to review your plans and resulting steps with an attorney. An experienced attorney can provide you with necessary guidance as to what proactive steps to take during the pendency of your case.
While misdemeanors are generally presented as minor crimes, it is critical that you consult an experienced criminal lawyer to protect your rights and your freedom. Contact the Law Offices of John Lutgens about your case today. Call 360-693-2119 or click here to request a consultation.