Difference Between a Misdemeanor & a Gross Misdemeanor in Washington State

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While misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors are considered "lesser crimes," they are not of lesser importance. In Washington state, the difference between the two categories can be anything from $4000 to nine months in jail. Misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors make up the majority of mid-level violations that fall between serious felonies and minor infractions, and are typically addressed in lower courts of limited jurisdiction.


The primary distinguishing factor between misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors is the extent of punishment for each. In Washington state, misdemeanors are punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $1000 fine. Depending on the condition of the crime, sometimes a fine is assigned in conjunction with jail time. Crimes that are more serious but do not cross the threshold of a felony are categorized as gross misdemeanors, which are punishable by up to 365 days in jail or a $5000 fine, and can include both.

Misdemeanors in Washington

Misdemeanors are usually assigned to charges of disorderly conduct, including abusive or threatening language, intentionally obstructing traffic or disrupting a burial or memorial service. Driving with a suspended license is normally a misdemeanor, as long as the driver was eligible for a valid license when the violation occurred. If the driver was not eligible, because of a DUI or a reckless driving conviction, the violation becomes a gross misdemeanor. Negligent driving, normally considered a traffic infraction, can be categorized as a misdemeanor if the driver displays signs of alcohol or drug consumption.

Gross Misdemeanors in Washington

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is considered a gross misdemeanor in Washington, as is trespassing, rioting and reckless driving, which includes racing other vehicles on public roads. Incidents of "hit and run attended," in which an accident occurs with an occupied vehicle and the driver does not stay to provide assistance and contact information, are also classified as gross misdemeanors. However, if a person injured in the accident dies, the case becomes a felony.

Repeat Offenders

If you have committed one or more misdemeanors in the past, a violation that would normally be considered a misdemeanor can be charged against you as a gross misdemeanor. For example, driving with a suspended license, normally a misdemeanor, becomes a gross misdemeanor for traffic offenders with three or more convictions. This is punishable by license suspension and a mandatory minimum of ten days in jail, on top of the compulsory fine and/or jail time required for a gross misdemeanor.



About the Author

Bethany Marroquin is a writer and credentialed English teacher from Southern California. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Westmont College, and completed her teaching credential in 2014 through Azusa Pacific University.

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