The three main categories of crime in California are infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Infractions are the least serious, felonies are the most serious, and misdemeanors are in the middle. The punishments for a misdemeanor depend on the circumstances of the crime, but often include jail time and/or fines. Knowing whether you will serve time in jail for a misdemeanor will take a conversation with a local criminal defense attorney.
The definition of a misdemeanor in California is a crime in which the maximum sentence does not exceed one year in jail. Many different types of crimes can lead to misdemeanor charges in California.
Unlike other states, California does not put misdemeanors in different classes based on the severity of the crime. However, someone could receive a gross or aggravated misdemeanor conviction. Certain crimes give the prosecutor the power to charge a misdemeanor as a felony, or a misdemeanor as an infraction (wobbler offenses). Some common wobbler offenses include trespassing, elder abuse, and crimes involving weapons.
A standard misdemeanor in California can come with up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. More serious misdemeanors can come with worse sentences. For a gross or aggravated misdemeanor, the consequences could increase to a fine of up to $2,000 and one year of jail time. A misdemeanor may escalate to a gross or aggravated charge if the person committed a more serious crime, such as one that caused others personal injury or death.
It is possible to receive probation as a sentence instead of jail time. Probation can last one to three years, during which time the defendant may have to perform community service, comply with the terms of house arrest, participate in counseling, and/or pay the victim restitution for damages. The consequences of a crime will depend on its seriousness, its class, and the criminal history of the defendant.
Most misdemeanor charges start with an arrest. The police may make an arrest if they have probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crime. Following the arrest will be an arraignment, or an initial hearing to determine whether the prosecution will press charges, and if so, what those charges will be.
The defendant may enter a plea during an arraignment if the prosecution does press charges. Next come the bail hearing, the pretrial phase, and discovery. Discover will involve both sides seeking evidence surrounding the case. Finally, the case will come to trial (with or without a jury) and the judgment. Either party then has the option to appeal the court’s decision.
A misdemeanor becomes part of the defendant’s permanent criminal record if the defendant pleads guilty, pleads no contest, or the courts find the defendant guilty at trial. In misdemeanor cases involving drug crimes, qualifying defendants can complete drug diversion courses for the courts to dismiss the charges. Dismissed charges will not end up on the permanent record.
California law allows for the expungement, or sealing of a criminal record, of most misdemeanor crimes. Expungement does not erase the criminal record, but it does make it so employers, landlords, and others cannot see the criminal record. Under California Penal Code Section 1203.4, a defendant can petition the courts for expungement if they fulfill all the requirements.
In most cases, expungement will take completing a sentence and avoiding additional convictions. The courts will not allow misdemeanor expungement for sex crimes against a child, including statutory rape. Talk to a lawyer to find out if you are eligible for record expungement after a misdemeanor conviction in California.