Levels of Crimes


This is the lowest level criminal charge, and they are almost always filed in a Court of Limited Jurisdiction (so a City Municipal or a County District Court). Misdemeanors carry a maximum sentence of 90 days in a county or city jail and a $1,000.00 fine. 

Gross Misdemeanor

Gross Misdemeanors are almost always filed in a Court of Limited Jurisdiction (so a City Municipal or a County District Court). These crimes carry a maximum sentence of 364 days in a county or city jail and a $5,000.00 fine. 

When a court imposes a sentence for a Misdemeanor or Gross Misdemeanor, the court will suspend or defer some or all of the sentence and place the person on probation. During probation, the person must maintain law-abiding behavior, and comply with other conditions that are set.  These conditions could include: maintain No Contact with a victim or a witness, perform community service hours, obtain a chemical dependency evaluation, participate in substance abuse treatment, obtain a mental health evaluation, participate in counseling or other mental health treatment, attend Victim Impact Panels.  If person violates any of these conditions, the court can set a review hearing to address the violation, and if the court decides a violation occurred, the judge can impose some or all of the suspended jail times and fines.  When a sentence is suspended, then the case is closed after the probationary period is over.  When a sentence is deferred, the person gets to withdraw their guilty plea at the end of probation, and the charge is dismissed.

Class C Felony

The maximum sentence is 5 years in a state prison and a $10,000.00 fine.

Class B Felony

The maximum sentence is 10 years in a state prison and a $20,000.00 fine.

Class A Felony

The maximum sentence is life imprisonment in a state prison and a $50,000.00 fine.

Felonies are almost always filed in a County Superior Court. Sentencing on a felony is based on the person’s sentencing range as determined by the Adult Sentencing Manual. Each felony is assigned a seriousness level. An individual is assigned an “offender score”, which assigns them a numerical point score based on their criminal conviction history and the current charges.  There is actually a chart to ascertain where an individual’s offender score aligns with a crime’s seriousness level. Some felonies are “unranked”, so if you are convicted of one of these crimes, the sentencing range is 0 – 12 months, regardless of your score.  After a period of incarceration, many felonies require Department of Corrections (“DOC”) supervision for a period of time after release from custody.

The prosecutor can ask for an “exceptional up” sentence and the defense can ask for a “downward departure” outside of these standard ranges, but such requests require proof of aggravating or mitigating factors.

For many crimes, an individual who has never been in trouble is looking at far less time than someone who has multiple prior convictions.  Certain convictions “wash” from an individual’s offender score after a period of time in the community with no new convictions. 

Sentencing can be fairly draconian, and determining what range you are looking at upon conviction depends on your specific history and the facts and charges of your case.  


How do the police test your blood when they arrest you on suspicion of a DUI?

Breath tests only detect alcohol levels.  If the police believe you are impaired by anything other than alcohol, the only way to test for that is by obtaining a blood sample and sending that sample to the Washington State Toxicology Laboratory for testing.  Established case law says that drawing a person’s blood is a search that is constitutionally protected, so in order for the police to get your blood sample, they need to get a warrant.  In order for a warrant to be valid, it must be supported by probable cause, which means that the police officer must present, under oath, sufficient facts to convince a judge that a crime has occurred, and that evidence of that crime is contained in your blood.  It is not enough for the officer to simply state that “I arrested this person and I think they are drunk or high or intoxicated.”  The officer needs to provide a factual basis for their suspicion.  Details make or break a case, and when an officer omits important details, the warrant can become invalid, which means that the blood sample was obtained by way of illegal search, so the results will not be admissible – no matter what kind of alcohol or drugs the testing shows. 

Police can also get your blood if they have an exception to the warrant requirement.  If you agree to allow police to take you to a medical professional to draw your blood, you are consenting to the blood draw, and this is a valid search.  Do not consent to a blood draw.  There are other ways to challenge the admissibility of the blood results, but a faulty warrant is the first line of attack.

The Constitution is not a technicality.  Make the officers apply for a warrant if they want to test your blood.

should you talk to the police 01

Should you talk to the Police when they suspect you of a Crime?

Some criminal charges start as police investigations.  Someone might call the police and say their significant other assaulted them. A homeowner might call the police and report that their home was broken into.  Police need to ascertain (1) was there a crime committed and (2) who committed this crime.  If a police officer or a detective contacts you for “your side of the story”, should you talk to them?

The short answer is, not without talking to a lawyer first.  You see, police officers are allowed, and even encouraged, to lie to a suspect to get the person to talk.  In the case of a home invasion, the police might say to the suspect, “we already have people who will place you at the home during the time of the break-in, so you should make this easy on yourself.” This might not be true, but that does not matter if the suspect says, “okay, yes, I was there and I did it.”  Now the suspected person has provided a confession.

In a situation where a significant other has accused their partner of assault, the police officer might say, “your partner is covered in bruises that they say are from you.” If the suspected person says, “that was only from me pushing them away!”, the police officer might write in their report, “the suspected person admitted to pushing the victim.”  While technically true, that statement is not twisted to look like a confession to assault, rather than an assertion of self-defense.

Most importantly, it is illegal for a civilian to lie to a police officer.  Lying to a police officer can lead to the charge of Making a False or Misleading Statement to a Public Servant under RCW 9A.76.175, a gross misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of 364 days in jail. So while police officers can and will lie to you to obtain information, you can be criminally charged if they believe you are lying to them.  It is unwise to enter such an uneven playing field without first consulting with a seasoned criminal defense lawyer.

In some cases, it might be beneficial to speak to the police, but that determination is based on the specifics of the allegations.  Contact my office if police have identified you as a suspect of a crime, and start protecting yourself right away.