What is a Misdemeanor in California and What Are Some Possible Defenses?

What is a Misdemeanor in California and What Are Some Possible Defenses?

Michelle Patrick
Michelle Patrick
 | 

We all know that people who break the law are committing a crime. Some crimes are more serious than others. Getting a speeding ticket is a less serious offense than attacking someone with a knife. Understanding how crimes are categorized and knowing your rights, if you have committed a crime, is essential to ensure that you achieve the best possible outcome if you are charged with a crime. 

 

Crimes are categorized at the state level. In California, and many states, there are three categories of crimes - infractions, misdemeanors and felonies. Infractions, which include things like speeding tickets and noise ordinance violations, are the least serious crimes while felonies, which includes murder and assault with a deadly weapon, are the most serious. 

 

The government, state and/or federal, is tasked with enforcing laws.Therefore, when a crime has been committed, it is the government (prosecutor/District Attorney) that charges the wrongdoer (defendant) with the crime and presents evidence to a judge or jury to prove the prosecutor’s case.  

 

Misdemeanors in California

 

 A misdemeanor is a crime that is punishable by jail time and/or a fine. In California, the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor is less than one year in jail (364 days) and/or a fine. Misdemeanors are more serious than infractions and less serious than felonies. Misdemeanors in California include, but are not limited to:

  • drug possession          
  • shoplifting
  • soliciting a prostitute
  • driving with a suspended license
  • DUI without injury
  • shoplifting
  • public drunkenness
  • indecent exposure
  • domestic violence
  • reckless driving
 

In addition, certain crimes in California are considered to be “wobbler” offenses. In the case of a wobbler offense, the prosecutor decides whether to charge the person who committed the crime with a misdemeanor or a felony. In making a decision, the prosecutor will consider things like the actual crime, the circumstances surrounding the crime and prior criminal history. Wobbler offenses include: 

  • brandishing a weapon
  • assault with a deadly weapon
  • disturbing the peace, and trespassing
 

While the above listed crimes are generally considered misdemeanors, it is possible that some of them could rise to the felony level depending on the specific facts. For example, while driving with a suspended license might generally be a misdemeanor, if someone was killed by the person driving with a suspended license, the charge could then be elevated to the felony level. 

 

Possible Defenses

 

While it is unlikely that you will be able to get a misdemeanor charge dropped, the good news is that oftentimes misdemeanor offenses in California result in probation. Examples of probation include:

  • community service
  • counseling and/or treatment
  • house arrest
  • electronic monitoring, like wearing an ankle bracelet
 

In addition, effective January 1, 2021, California law now provides that for the majority of misdemeanors, first-time offenders can request to enter a diversion program. The goal of this legislation is to give first-time offenders a second chance and avoid a trial. Successful completion of a diversion program is advantageous because there will be no criminal record; it will be like the crime never existed. Misdemeanors not eligible for diversion include domestic violence and DUI.

 

Criminal Records and Misdemeanors

 

If you are found guilty of a misdemeanor in California you will have a criminal record. This applies if you pled guilty, were found guilty at trial or pled “no contest.” The good news is that most misdemeanor crimes can be expunged under California law. Expungement is essentially erasing the crime from your record. In many California misdemeanor cases, you will be able to apply for expungement either the day after your probation ends, or in the case of no probation, one year from the date of conviction. 

 

Hiring an Attorney

 

There are certain situations where you may not need to hire an attorney. If you are dealing with a simple traffic ticket, you likely do not need an attorney. However, criminal law is very complex and if you are found guilty of a crime it could have serious consequences for your future. California law changes frequently and a criminal attorney will know the law and work on your behalf to insure that you get the possible outcome. A good example of why an attorney is beneficial is California’s new diversion program. A criminal attorney will be aware that this new program exists and know that in order to enter it, must request to participate in it. 

 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

 
Michelle Patrick

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