Misdemeanor Sentencing in California: Quick Guide

May 24, 2021 by Seppi Esfandi in California  Criminal Defense  

Felonies, Misdemeanors, Infractions

The Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

Have you been arrested and charged for a crime? Or maybe someone close to you has?

If so, you need an idea on the consequences of those crimes. That is, you need to understand how their crime is classified, and why.

As a rule, crimes fall into one of three categories. Those would be infractions, misdemeanors and felonies.

We’ll discuss the second one below. In fact, we’ll be looking at the following:

  • Definition of a misdemeanor and its types
  • Wobbler offenses
  • What happens upon arrest
  • How to avoid jail time
  • How to clear your criminal record
  • How US law treats non-citizens who have committed misdemeanors

According to California Law: What is a Misdemeanor?

In Californian law, misdemeanors are considered graver than infractions, but less so than felonies.

Common examples of misdemeanors are actions that don’t lead to serious injuries. This may include domestic violence, shoplifting, and DUIs.

Misdemeanor punishment reaches up to one year, and in a county jail. They also fall into one of two types:

(1) Standard Misdemeanors

Those are punished by less than 6 months in jail. In some cases, up to $1000 in fines are levied.

Standard misdemeanors include drug possession, certain trespassing charges, shoplifting, prostitution, indecent exposure, and being drunk in public.

(2) Gross (or Aggravated) Misdemeanors

Those are punished by less than 12 months in jail. In some cases, over $1000 in fines are levied.

Gross misdemeanors include violating restraining orders, DUIs without injury, driving with a suspended license, and domestic battery.

(3) A “Third Type” of Misdemeanors – Wobbler Offense

Sometimes, misdemeanors are categorized as wobbler offenses.

Those are crimes that (depending on the prosecutor), may shift in categorization to an infraction, or a felony.

That is, the category of the offense falls under the prosecutor’s jurisdiction. In that case, they fall into two categories:

  • Misdemeanor/infraction wobblers
  • Misdemeanor/felony wobblers

When picking a charge, prosecutors look at a variety of factors. Specifically, they’ll look at the case facts, and/or the criminal history of the defendant.

Common examples of felony wobblers include:

  • Assault using deadly weapon – punished by up to 364 days in jail. A fine up to $10,000 may be levied.
  • Elder abuse – punished by up to 364 days in jail. A fine up to $6000 may be levied.
  • Brandishing a weapon – punished by up to 364 days in jail. A fine up to $1000 may be levied.

Common examples of infraction wobblers include:

  • Wobbler trespassing – punished with less than 6 months of jail time. A fine up to $1000 may be levied.
  • Disturbing the peace – punished with less than 3 months in jail. A fine up to $400 may be levied.

Do note that with infraction wobblers, if there’s insufficient evidence, then the case can be dropped.

What Happens With a Misdemeanor Arrest?

Normally, the case proceeds through an arraignment, bail hearing, pretrial phase, jury/bench trial, and an appeal.

However, most cases don’t go through the previous steps.

They can be dropped at any time if the evidence is weak, or if a court grants motion to suppress evidence (I.e. prevents a prosecutor from introducing it into a trial).

A third way to drop a case is when the defense and prosecution agree on a plea bargain.

Is There a Way to Avoid Jail Time?

Yes. Many misdemeanor cases do lead to probation (assuming you have an experienced lawyer to back you up).

In that case, those misdemeanors are called informal (or summary) probations.

For a defendant to stay out of jail, they’ll need to conform to certain standards through their probation period.

That may involve the following:

  • Paying restitution to victims
  • Participating in treatment/counselling programs
  • House arrest or electronic monitoring
  • Community service

Do Misdemeanors Give Individuals a Criminal Record?

They do in the following situations:

  • If defendants plead guilty
  • If defendants are found guilty at trial
  • If defendants plead “no contest”

Some exceptions are allowed in drug cases, where the defendant participates and completes a drug diversion program. In those situations, the judge dismisses the charges, and no convictions stay.

Otherwise, convictions stick on an individual’s program, until it’s expunged or sealed.

The drug diversion programs recognized by Californian courts include:

  • Prop 36
  • California PC 1000

How Are Misdemeanors Expunged From a Criminal Record?

First, they’re expugnable for all cases, except for those pertaining to sex offenses against children (counted as statutory rape).

Also, the defendant has to fulfill certain requirements to be eligible for expungement, which include:

  • Having fully completed probation
  • Must not be currently on probation, or be charged (or serving) sentences for an offense

Regardless, do note that defendants don’t have to disclose expunged criminal misdemeanors on job applications or in interviews.

FAQ: Why Are Misdemeanors Punishable for Less Than a Year?

To be specific, misdemeanors are punishable for 364 days at most. This has been set ever since 1st January 2015.

The reason for that is, if a crime is punishable for 365 days or more, it becomes a deportable offense (which is bad for migrants).

It exists ensure better legal security for aliens living in the US. Thus, aliens are only deported for offenses that are classified as felonies.

They can also be deported for serious misdemeanors, specifically ones that involve potential violence or severe harm of health.

What Misdemeanors can Lead to Deportation?

Misdemeanors don’t lead to deportation, unless they involve domestic violence, firearms, or drugs (or any combination of the previous).

Also, according to federal law, non-citizens can be deported if they’ve committed crimes within 5 years that involve:

  • Possible sentencing of 1+ years
  • Moral turpitude

Someone I Know Has Been Arrested – What Do I Do?

First, contact a lawyer as soon as possible. It’s also preferable if you don’t talk to authorities until then.

We can be the law assistance you need. At our law firm, we handle a multitude of cases that pertain to Californian law.

In fact, we’d be happy to represent you in court. Contact Esfandi Law Group now, and save yourself (or a loved one) a jail sentence!

Need a Criminal Defense Attorney? CALL NOW: 310-274-6529

Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Criminal Defense Attorney who has over 20 years of practice defending a variety of criminal cases.

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Lara S.
December 3, 2019
Seppi had my case reduced to just an infraction, and thanks to him I was able to keep my job. Jorge was extremely helpful too, the reason I went with this law firm. Overall pleased.

How to Win Your Case

We cannot stress enough that you read, understand and follow these 10 basic rules if you are criminally charged or under investigation:

  1. Don’t ever talk to the police
  2. Do not discuss your case with anyone
  3. Everything you tell your lawyer is confidential
  4. Tell police you need to contact your attorney
  5. Never consent to any search by the police
  6. If the police knock on your door, don't answer!
  7. Realize the consequences of a criminal conviction
  8. Your lawyer (not you) will contact any witnesses
  9. Information on your cell phone is evidence
  10. Early Intervention is the key

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