If someone has had a run-in with the law, it helps to know what's ahead of her. Sometimes, laws and the legal process itself can be confusing. Throughout the United States, every crime is classified as either a felony or a misdemeanor. However, each state also has different classes of felonies and misdemeanors, which determines the likely punishment. A Class 4 misdemeanor in Virginia is the least serious class of crimes.
What’s the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?
It’s important to know the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. A felony is a very serious crime, such as murder, rape or burglary with a deadly weapon, and it's punishable by state imprisonment or death (Virginia is one of the 31 U.S. states in which the death penalty is legal). A misdemeanor is a less serious crime, punishable by a fine and/or up to 12 months in local jail.
Different Classes of Misdemeanors in Virginia
The Virginia misdemeanor list consists of Class 1, Class 2, Class 3 and Class 4 misdemeanors. A Class I misdemeanor is the most serious, punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a maximum fine of $2,500, or both. Examples of Class 1 misdemeanors in Virginia are domestic violence, driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) and petit larceny.
A Class 2 misdemeanor, such as driving without a valid license or possession of a schedule IV controlled substance, is punishable by up to six months in jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both.
Class 3 and Class 4 misdemeanors are the least serious types of misdemeanors. If someone is found guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor, he won’t serve any jail time, but is likely to be fined. For a Class 3 misdemeanor, the maximum fine is $500. Examples of a Class 3 misdemeanor are unintentional damage to property or monuments and possession of a schedule V controlled substance.
Read More: What Is a Class A Misdemeanor?
Class 4 Misdemeanor Punishment
Class 4 misdemeanors in Virginia include a first conviction of public intoxication, possession of a Schedule VI controlled substance, trespassing on railroad tracks, restricting the commission of the duties of an animal control officer and drinking while operating a motor vehicle. If someone is found guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor, she won’t serve any jail time, but is likely to be fined. The maximum fine for a Class 4 misdemeanor is $250.
Class 4 misdemeanors are considered minor offenses because they generally deal with potential danger or potential injury, rather than actual injury.
Virginia deals with criminal and civil offenses separately, which means any criminal court action cannot stop an injured party from seeking financial restitution. Equally, civil court penalties do not mitigate the criminal penalties laid down by the criminal court. Because Class 4 misdemeanors generally do not create financial burdens for injured parties (and often do not directly injure another party), many of these cases won't end up in civil court.
Class U Misdemeanors
There are also “unclassified” misdemeanors in Virginia, which simply means they don’t fit into any of the predefined groups. Sometimes referred to as Class U misdemeanors, these may incur more serious penalties than Class 3 or Class 4 misdemeanors. For example, a first offense of possession of certain amounts of marijuana is sometimes charged as a Class U misdemeanor in Virginia. This offense may be punished by up to 30 days in jail, plus a fine of up to $500.
- Virginia Law: Code of Virginia § 18.2-11. Punishment for conviction of misdemeanor
- Virginia Law: Code of Virginia § 18.2-250. Possession of controlled substances unlawful.
- Virginia Law: Code of Virginia § 18.2-159. Trespassing on railroad track.
- Andrew Flusche Attorney at Law: Virginia Misdemeanor and Felony Classifications
- Greenspun Shapiro PC Attorneys at Law: Misdemeanor Classifications And Penalties In Virginia
Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.