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Can I Go to Jail for a Minor Crime?

The term “minor crime” is a bit ambiguous. Most traffic violations will not send you to jail and do not leave a criminal record. A better term for minor crime would be misdemeanor. Some of these can send you to jail, but not all of them.

So, the answer is yes, you can go to jail for some minor crimes. Here’s what you need to know about misdemeanors under Virginia law to know if your crime qualifies.

Misdemeanor Classes in Virginia

Misdemeanors are divided into four classes under Virginia law. Each class has a recommended maximum fine and jail sentences. Here are the four classes:

  • Class 1: Punishable by fine up to $2,500, 12 months in jail, or both.
  • Class 2: Punishable by fine up to $1,000, six months in jail, or both.
  • Class 3: Punishable by fine up to $500. 
  • Class 4: Punishable by fine up to $250.

The last two classes do not have a recommended jail sentence. Note that a misdemeanor has to be specifically mentioned as Class 3 or Class 4 in Virginia law to qualify. Crimes without specific punishments or classifications default to Class 1.

Can I Ignore the Fine?

Sometimes, we meet people who think they can ignore the fine of a minor crime, but this can send you to jail. Dodging court fines is an easy way to get a warrant out for your arrests and a trip to the local jail.

Even a minor Class 4 crime is serious. You will still have a criminal record and may have to explain yourself to people in the future. A prior criminal record may also cause a prosecutor to apply heavier punishments to you for any future crimes.

If you want to completely avoid punishment for a misdemeanor, you will need to have a criminal defense lawyer build a case on your behalf and hope that the evidence is on your side. Even if you think the crime is minor and doesn’t matter, the Commonwealth of Virginia won’t think so. You must play by their rules.

How Can I Lower My Jail Time for a Minor Crime?

There used to be a rule where if you had good behavior, you could lower the amount of time in jail for a misdemeanor crime. However, the time computation rules have changed since 2008. Good behavior in jail won’t likely mean an earlier release.

The best way to lower your jail time for a minor crime is to avoid going to jail in the first place. We encourage you to speak with a criminal defense attorney so they can help you do this. If jail is unavoidable, they can try to persuade the judge to lower your sentence, especially for a small offense.