How To Avoid Jail Time For A Misdemeanor: 11 First-Timer Tips

Staring a misdemeanor charge?

In this article, we’ll talk about the things you can do to try and avoid jail time.

How To Avoid Jail Time For A Misdemeanor (11 Tips)


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When it comes to misdemeanors, there are a few ways to avoid jail time.

One way is to convince the prosecutor that the case is too weak (resulting in a dismissal).

Another is to win the case outright at trial, by convincing the fact finder (judge or jury) that you are not guilty.

Another way is to negotiation a “change of plea” and receive a non-jail sentence.

In this article, we’ll focus on the more general things you can do in your case that will help you receive a non-jail time sentence in the event that you have to go to the sentencing phase.

#1: Hire An Experienced Attorney On Your Own

One of the major differences in outcomes on misdemeanor (or even felony) charges is whether or not the defendant retained private counsel.

In fact, this might be the most important factor.

Appointed lawyers (government pays for) are experienced lawyers.

But they don’t have any incentive to achieve the best possible result.

They want to do a good job, but they also want to clear your case off their desk to get to the 100s of other cases assigned to them.

A private retained lawyer is working for your money, and the lifeblood of his or her business is referrals.

When people get good results, they tell their friends and family.

Retained lawyers also have lots of cases, but not quite so many as an appointed lawyer.

This means they can give more time and attention to you as well as your case.

Sometimes prosecutors see that a defendant has hired a particular defense lawyer, and know just by looking at the notice of representation that the case will be a lot of work.

This can impact the “deal” as far as negotiating the case.

An experienced retained lawyer will also work very hard to find all the angles that might help convince the prosecutor and the judge that probation is a better outcome than jail time.

#2: Do The Work Your Lawyers Tell You To Do

As a former criminal defense lawyer, it was always shocking to me when my clients would disregard my instructions or advice.

Their very life in some instances was hanging on the line, and they couldn’t bother to gather the paperwork I needed, or attend the appointments I scheduled for them.

This might seem like a low bar, but defendants charged with a misdemeanor must do the things their attorneys tell them to do.

#3: Show Up To All Court Appearances On Time (Or Even Early)

People who show up late for court or not at all are less likely to get a “good” deal from the prosecutor.

In the end, if the defendant does not show respect for the court or for the time of the people involved, there’s little incentive to throw him a bone.

Your attorney will be able to tell the court that you respect the court and the system, as evidenced by your consistent and timely attendance.

And yes, this does matter.

#4: Be Respectful Of Everyone

Everyone in the courthouse and the attorney offices report on the behavior of the defendants to their bosses.

Those bosses might be judges, police officers, prosecutors, and defense attorneys.

Act like a jerk, and the people who hold the strings of your case will know about it.

Yes, this also really matters.

#5: Show Remorse For Your Actions

You may or may not feel like the charge was justified.

You might be innocent of the charge.

But if the case is headed into sentencing, whether a jury found the defendant guilty or he changed his plea, the outward attitude of the defendant in the proceeding is usually taken into account.

If the defendant “accepts responsibility” for his actions, he may receive a more lenient punishment than a defendant who goes through sentencing arrogant or aggressive.

The attitude of accepting responsibility early on in the case can also help convince the prosecutor that you deserve a more lenient sentence, one that does not involve jail.

Talk with your attorney about the right tone for your case.

#6: Understand When You Should and Should Not Talk About Your Case

Many defendants mess up their cases by talking too much.

While we can’t give you legal advice, we have seen many instances where defendants hurt their chances when they talked to spouses, friends, family members, and co-workers.

There’s nothing wrong with talking with friends.

But it is a problem when the defendant talks about the alleged facts of the case, especially when those facts don’t match up with other recitations of the facts to other people.

Everything you say can and will be used against you.

And unless there is a privilege (unique to the state you live in) that would prevent that witness from testifying, you can easily sink yourself without even realizing it.

#7: Don’t Create More Evidence Against Yourself

This tip is closely related to talking about your case.

In addition to talking about their case, people make their cases worse by posting on social media, by writing letters, by trying to move money, by trying to create witnesses or influence witnesses, or even by destroying evidence.

Your attorney will probably give you instructions about actions they do or do not want you to take.

Just keep in mind that you can make your case worse after the fact.

#8: Get A Job Or Stick With The One You Have

Judges don’t like to cause people to lose their jobs with jail if they can help it.

A working citizen is much more valuable then someone who is not working and is taking from the public.

People feel overwhelmed by a criminal case and think to quit their jobs to handle it.

Many judges respect people who hold things together and keep going to work, paying taxes, taking responsibility.

If you have had a long term job, judges are loath to let a misdemeanor mistake cause you to lose it.

If you get a job while the case is pending and hold onto it during the weeks or months that it takes the case to resolve, you may find a more sympathetic ear when it comes time for sentencing (jail vs probation).

At sentencing, your lawyer may get written or in person statements from your company/boss, which can help influence the court in your favor.

#9: Seek Out Therapy/Treatment

While this won’t always be helpful, many judges like to see defendants working on themselves to be better, and to avoid returning to the court in the future.

In some cases, seeking out a counselor for talk therapy and attending your appointments regularly can be a good signal or sign for a judge that you are taking your life seriously, and want to change.

While there may be reasons not to engage in therapy in certain cases, you should talk with your attorney to see if it is a good fit for you.

#10: Ditch All Substance Abuse (Even The Legal Stuff)

Judges would rather see you clean and sober.


It doesn’t matter if you can legally utilize the substance.

Too many people find their way into the justice system as the result of substances.

Being able to stand up front of the judge and honestly declare that you are clean is important.

This is especially true if you can back up the declaration with a clean UA.

Obviously if there’s a medical condition, talk with your lawyer about the importance of being clean and sober.

Seeking treatment for substance abuse might even be part of the proposed resolution.

#11: Find Ways To Show The Court And Prosecutor That You Are Worth It

Probation versus jail time–the decision between these two in a misdemeanor case is really fact specific.

Probation is taking a chance on someone.

The court is more likely to take a change on someone if they appear to be worth it, and if it appears that they can succeed on probation.

Here are some things that the court will also consider:

  • Are you in school?
  • If you are in school, do you get good grades?
  • What is your intended profession?
  • Are your career goals something you can actually achieve, and are you working towards them?
  • Do you have family members living in the town, and do they support you?
  • Do you have friends who are clean, sober, and employed? Do they support you?
  • Do you volunteer or otherwise contribute to society in a positive way?
  • Do you have children, and are you a consistent and stable parent?
  • Are you in a stable relationship, and does that person support you?
  • If the situation applies, have you done anything or everything to assist law enforcement and the prosecution to wrap up the case (like identifying other individuals, providing evidence, etc)

Wrap Up

In the end, your sentence (and whether you get jail time) depends upon the case and upon you.

Talk to your attorney if you have more questions about possible misdemeanor jail time.

Want to learn more about your criminal justice system?

Browse our free legal library guides for more information.

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how to avoid jail time for a misdemeanor