What is a Misdemeanor?
Crimes may be charged as misdemeanors or felonies. A misdemeanor is an offense punishable under criminal law.
Offenses that fall into the category of a misdemeanor are generally less serious than felony offenses. California defines misdemeanor crimes as offenses that do not result in a jail sentence of more than one year in county jail.
What Types of Crimes Are Considered Misdemeanors?
The types of crimes that are often charged as misdemeanors in California include but are not limited to:
- Driving under the influence without causing injury
- Simple assault
- Petty theft
- Domestic violence without causing injury
- Drug possession
- Driving on a suspended license
- Reckless driving
Most misdemeanors are non-violent, victimless crimes. However, if a misdemeanor involves a violent act, the victims generally sustain minor injuries.
Some of the above offenses may be felonies in other states. Each state sets the laws regarding criminal offenses committed within that state.
What Are the Penalties for California Misdemeanor Offenses?
The punishment for a misdemeanor depends on whether the offense is a standard misdemeanor or a gross or aggravated misdemeanor.
Standard misdemeanors are crimes punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in county jail. The punishment for an aggravated or gross misdemeanor is also a fine of up to $1,000. However, the maximum jail time increases to up to one year in jail.
In addition to jail time and fines, misdemeanor offenses may also result in summary (informal) probation. The court supervises summary probation. The judge may set one or more conditions of probation for the defendant.
Conditions of probation may include but are not limited to:
- Drug or alcohol education programs
- Community service
- House arrest or electronic monitoring
- Paying restitution to the victim
If a defendant fails to meet the conditions of probation, the defendant may be required to serve out the jail sentence. Unless there are extraordinary circumstances, cases eligible for probation generally do not result in jail time.
Can I Have a Misdemeanor Expunged in California?
Misdemeanor offenses result in a criminal record if the defendant pleads guilty or no contest. A guilty verdict after a trial also results in a criminal record. Exceptions may exist for some defendants who complete a diversion program.
Most misdemeanor crimes are eligible for a Petition for Dismissal (expungement) under California law. However, sex crimes against a child, including statutory rape, are not eligible for expungement.
For a misdemeanor to be expunged from your criminal record, you must meet these requirements:
- Your case was heard in state court
- You completed probation, or it has been at least one year since your conviction if the judge did not order summary probation
- You met all requirements of the sentence, including conditions of probation
- You did not violate any of the terms of your probation
- You are not currently on probation, charged with another crime, or serving time for another criminal offense
- You did not serve time in state prison, or your state prison sentence would have been time served in county jail had you committed the crime after Realignment under Proposition 47
You are not required to disclose expunged convictions to potential employers. Expunging a criminal conviction may also make it easier to obtain certain professional licenses.
If you do not have the misdemeanor expunged, the conviction remains on your criminal record for the rest of your life.
Should I Hire a Lawyer for a Misdemeanor Charge?
You have the right to consult an attorney about criminal charges. Whether you need to hire an attorney depends on the circumstances of your case. However, it is always best to exercise your right to remain silent and talk to a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer whenever you are arrested or being investigated by the police.
Some criminal offenses are known as wobblers. A wobbler can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Having an attorney negotiate a plea deal for a felony charge could help you reduce the charge to a misdemeanor and avoid harsh penalties.
Even if you are innocent, you need an attorney. Being innocent does not guarantee that you will not be found guilty of a crime. You may be innocent until proven guilty, but if you do not present a strong defense, you could find yourself serving time for a crime you did not commit.
Lastly, a criminal defense lawyer protects your civil rights. Being arrested is different from being convicted for a crime. You could have several defenses that may result in your criminal case being dismissed.
For example, the police officer might have lacked probable cause for an arrest or might have performed an illegal search. If so, the evidence against you may be inadmissible in court. An experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer will investigate your arrest to determine if your rights were violated.
Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer If You’ve Been Charged With a Misdemeanor
All criminal offenses are serious matters. A misdemeanor punishment could result in significant consequences that impact your freedom and your future.
Contact a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney to discuss the criminal charges against you. Understanding your options and legal rights is the best way to protect yourself.
Last Updated on April 18, 2023