California considers misdemeanors to be crimes for which the maximum sentence is no more than one year in county jail. A misdemeanor is more serious than an infraction but less serious than a felony. Examples of misdemeanor violations are drug possession, shoplifting, petty theft, trespass, driving on a suspended license, vandalism, solicitation, and even driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI). Many misdemeanors are punished with monetary fines.

California Penal Code § 19 provides that every offense that is considered a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both. More than a few crimes in California are considered “wobbler” offenses which may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony or, as applicable, an infraction or a misdemeanor.

There are two types of misdemeanors in California:

  1. “Standard” misdemeanors, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000; and
  2. “Gross” or “aggravated” misdemeanors,” punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000 or more.

Whenever a California criminal statute prescribes punishment for a misdemeanor as up to one year in county jail, the actual penalty is no more than 364 days in jail. The punishment designated for gross misdemeanors is greater than that for ordinary misdemeanors and less than that for felonies, which typically impose time in state prison.

While some misdemeanors may be upgraded to felonies based on recidivism, other misdemeanors may be upgraded based on context. For example, the crime of indecent exposure may normally be classified as a misdemeanor but charged as a felony when committed in front of a minor.

Today, even a dismissed or uncharged arrest for a misdemeanor may seriously hinder a person’s future prospects of employment. Aside from effects on job opportunities, misdemeanor charges may have collateral consequences that result in the loss of other privileges such as professional licenses, as well as public offices, and public employment. This is more likely when the misdemeanor is related to the privilege, such as the loss of a commercial driver’s license after a conviction for drunk driving, or when the misdemeanor is one that involves moral turpitude, such as in the context of charges related to domestic violence.

Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial to defend any criminal charge, even a misdemeanor charge. The advice, guidance, and representation of experienced criminal defense counsel may be crucial to achieving the best possible result in any criminal matter. John Patrick Dolan has forty years of criminal defense experience. Contact Dolan Law Offices today at 760-775-3739 or 562-824-4007 to discuss your situation or find out more online here.

How California Punishes Misdemeanors

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