Offense Categories and Sentencing

Washington, much like every state in the country, has categories of criminal offenses, with possible punishments increasing as the perceived severity of the offense increases. Prosecutors may charge a defendant with a serious offense, but a skilled Washington criminal defense attorney can help obtain an acquittal, reduce the charges to a lesser felony or misdemeanor, or negotiate a plea agreement for a lesser offense. This reduces the possible penalty for an offense and minimizes its impact on a defendant’s life.

Categories of Offenses in Washington

Washington law establishes two major categories of criminal offenses, felonies and misdemeanors, with additional subdivisions of each category.

Felonies in Washington

The most serious criminal offenses are considered felonies under Washington law. These cases are typically brought in Washington Superior Courts as class A, B, or C felonies.

  • Class A felonies are the most serious alleged offenses, including murder, aggravated kidnapping, and rape. A conviction for a class A felony could result in a sentence of life imprisonment, a fine of up to $50,000, or both. Washington state allows the death penalty only for serious murder convictions or treason.
  • Class B felonies are less serious, but still very serious offenses, including manslaughter, robbery or burglary, theft of large amounts of money, certain drug offenses, and certain sexual offenses. A conviction can lead to imprisonment of up to ten years and/or a $20,000 fine.
  • Class C felonies include theft of lesser amounts, drug offenses, driving under the influence, and possession of stolen property. A person convicted of a Class C felony could face five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Misdemeanors and Gross Misdemeanors in Washington

Washington’s criminal code defines offenses that do not rise to the level of a felony as misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors. Courts of limited jurisdiction, such as district courts and municipal courts, usually hear misdemeanor cases. Misdemeanor offenses may range from traffic violations to drug or theft offenses.

Gross misdemeanors may include offenses like first-offense driving under the influence, reckless driving, minor theft, and simple assault. The maximum penalty by law is one year in county jail and a $5,000 fine.

A misdemeanor is defined as any crime with a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and/or ninety days in county jail. This could include most speeding or parking violations, driving with a suspended license, negligent driving, and disorderly conduct.

Alternative Penalties

Instead of a fine, a defendant may be able to pay restitution to a victim, or may perform community service or some other service approved by the court. This has the advantages of allowing defendants to get back to their lives, while also preserving the state’s resources

Lesser-Included Offenses

When charging someone with an alleged offense, prosecutors often allege lesser-included offenses, such as negligent driving during a prosecution for reckless driving. It is sometimes possible to plead a case down to a lesser offense, or to seek an acquittal on a more serious offense at trial.

Criminal prosecutions in Tacoma and elsewhere in western Washington can have consequences for a defendant beyond a jail sentence or a fine. Defendants need the assistance of a Washington criminal defense lawyer with knowledge of and experience in the state’s complex legal system. For over fifteen years I have helped criminal defendants obtain plea agreements and verdicts with significantly reduced penalties, as well as dismissals and acquittals. For a free and confidential consultation, contact our office today online or at (888) 312-3093.