Criminal charges are divided broadly into felonies and misdemeanors, which carry different punishment ranges including jail time and/or fines, depending on the perceived seriousness of the alleged crime. The more serious crimes are considered felonies, whereas more minor offenses are considered misdemeanors. Regardless of whether one is guilty of a felony or misdemeanor, criminal convictions of any kind can follow you for the rest of your life, making it difficult to obtain housing, loans, and employment. If you have either made a mistake or are being wrongly accused of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner. Do not make the mistake of failing to take any level of criminal charges seriously.
As mentioned above, a felony is a serious crime and is typically punishable by at least one year of imprisonment.
Felony Punishment Ranges:
- Class 1: Death or Imprisonment up to Life and Fines up to $100,000.00
- Class 2: Imprisonment for a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of Life and Fines up to $100,000.00
- Class 3: Imprisonment for 5 to 20 years and Fines up to $100,000.00
- Class 4: Imprisonment for 2 to 10 years and Fines up to $100,000.00
- Class 5: Imprisonment for 1 to 10 years OR jail for up to 1 year and Fines up to $2,500.00
- Class 6: Imprisonment for 1 to 5 years OR jail for up to 1 year and Fines up to $2,500.00
Misdemeanors are considered lesser crimes than felonies. However, just because an offense is classified as a misdemeanor does not mean that a conviction is without serious consequence. A conviction for a misdemeanor can result in jail time, fines, and/or community service requirements.
Misdemeanor Punishment Ranges:
- Class 1: Jail for up to 1 year and/or a Fine up to $2,500.00
- Class 2: Jail for up to 6 months and/or a Fine up to $1,000.00
- Class 3: Fine up to $500.00
- Class 4: Fine up to $250.00
Virginia drug laws carry very stiff penalties. Many offenses have mandatory minimum sentences, and to make matters even more serious, Virginia does not allow parole.
Most drug charges fall into one of two categories: simple possession and distribution/possession with intent to distribute.
Simple drug possession is generally defined as possession of a controlled substance in an amount sufficient for personal use, but not so large a quantity as to evidence an intent to sell/distribute. The penalties for charges of drug possession vary based on (1) the amount of the drug found in your possession and (2) the type of drug. Controlled substances are divided into “schedules” according to the type of substance.
Whether someone is charged with simple possession or possession with intent to distribute depends on a few factors. The amount of the controlled substance in the person’s possession is perhaps the most important factor. Other factors include:
- Whether the substance was packaged in distributable form
- Whether the person was also found with drug paraphernalia such as a pipe or a needle (suggesting possession for personal use)
- Whether the person had scales or empty, unused packages
- Whether, in the case of possession of a pharmaceutical drug, the drug was in a pharmacy pill bottle
- Whether the person also had firearms or other weapons; and whether the person had large amounts of cash.
This evidence is circumstantial but can make a huge difference in how the person is charged and potentially punished if convicted.
Punishment for Drug Offenses
Possession with intent to distribute is a felony. Possession of a schedule I or II substance in a quantity sufficient for distribution can be punished by imprisonment for up to 40 years, plus a hefty fine. For a second offense, a conviction for possession with intent to distribute can be punished with a mandatory minimum of 3 years in prison and up to life in prison, plus a fine. A third offense carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years and can carry a life-in-prison sentence, in addition to a fine.
Non-violent theft crimes in which property is stolen without entering the victim’s home (as opposed to burglary) and without coming into direct contact with the victim (as opposed to robbery) are generally referred to collectively as larceny.
Larceny can be classified as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on whether the amount of goods or services alleged to have been stolen is valued at more or less than $200.00. If the amount is more than $200.00, the offense is a felony, punishable by up to 20 years in jail. If the amount stolen is less than $200.00, the offense is a Class 1 Misdemeanor. It is important to note that if you have two prior convictions of misdemeanor-level theft, another offense may be charged as a felony, even if the amount stolen is less than $200.00.
Larceny/theft crimes include:
- Writing bad checks
- Petit larceny
- Grand larceny
- Automobile theft
- Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle
- Credit card fraud
- Theft of services
- Receiving stolen property
The words “assault” and “battery” are often used interchangeably in colloquial conversation, but they refer to two different acts. Assault is defined by Virginia law as an attempt or offer, with force or violence, to do bodily harm to another person. Battery is defined as any non-consensual or unwanted, intentional touching.
Both assault and battery are classified as Class 1 Misdemeanors, and as such are punishable by jail time up to 1 year and/or a fine of up to $2,500.00.
Assault and battery in the context of a family have different punishment ranges and different court procedures. Domestic assault and battery includes assault and/or battery between family members, in-laws living in the same residence, unmarried couples who live together, former spouses, and former couples who have children together, even if they were never married. These cases are not handled in district court like most criminal charges but rather in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
A domestic assault normally results in an emergency protective order being issued. This protective order lasts up to 72 hours. During those 72 hours, the accused person may not enter the home of the victim or by any means contact the victim or anyone else living in that home. Thereafter the alleged victim may petition for a preliminary protective order which could be effective for another 15 days and a permanent protective order up to 2 years. These types of proceedings should not be taken lightly as a violation of these orders is a crime and if guilty requires active jail time.
Felony or Misdemeanor?
Importantly, the classification of a crime as a misdemeanor or a felony often depends upon the severity of the crime. One example of assault may be considered a misdemeanor while another assault may be considered a felony. This may also be the case with larceny and drug-related charges. It is for this reason, and many others, that hiring an experienced attorney with a deep knowledge of the state and federal laws is so important. It can mean the difference between probation and jail time.