Misdemeanors and the Law

Under the California Penal Code misdemeanors are crimes that are considered less serious than felonies but can bring jail time of up to one year and fines totaling $2000. In California criminal offenses are classified as infractions, misdemeanors, or felonies.

  • Infractions such as traffic violations are punishable by a fine and no jail time.
  • Misdemeanors are, by definition, crimes that carry a less severe punishment than a felony.
  • Felonies are serious offenses that generally carry a jail sentence of one year or more.

Misdemeanor Facts:

  • A misdemeanor will likely show up on a background check
  • Being accused of a misdemeanor or convicted of one can have devastating effects in the life of the accused
  • In some cases, a misdemeanor can be raised to the level of a felony

Elevating Misdemeanors to Felonies
Under certain circumstances, a misdemeanor may be charged as a felony, depending on the following factors, including:

  • The seriousness of the crime
  • Injuries to the victim
  • The defendant’s prior criminal record

In addition, when certain prior criminal offenses exist on the defendant’s record at the time of misdemeanor arrest, the chances of having the current offense elevated to a felony are much greater.

Criminal offenses that increase the risk of having your misdemeanor elevated to a felony, include:

  • Petty Theft / Shoplifting
  • Domestic Violence
  • Violation of a Domestic Violence Order
  • Drunk Driving (DUI / DWI) with 3 prior charges in 10 years
  • Indecent Exposure
  • Loaded Firearm in a Public Place
  • Receipt of Stolen Property

Misdemeanor Sentencing and Punishment

For misdemeanor charges, the range of California sentencing may include jail time, probation, fines, and/or community service. A skilled criminal defense attorney can assist in an alternative or reduced sentence for the defendant.

Misdemeanor Penalties

  • Probation –
    • With Jail Time – In some cases jail time may be served under House Arrest or weekends in a private jail
    • Without Jail Time – For less severe offenses, probation may be given without any jail time
  • Community Service
  • CalTrans (physical labor)
  • Counseling or supervised anger management classes
  • Restitution – The court may order financial compensation to the victim by the defendant
  • Fines – Fines vary from $200 to $2 000 in court-ordered fines
  • Stay-Away Orders – The court may order the defendant to have no contact with certain persons and locations

Examples of California Misdemeanors

  • DUI / DWI (first, second, or third offense with no injuries)
  • Trespass
  • Petty Theft / Shoplifting
  • Disorderly Conduct
  • Obscene Matter
  • Probation Violations
  • Receipt of Stolen Property
  • Unlicensed Driver
  • Illegal Gambling
  • Public Drunkenness
  • Solicitation of Prostitution
  • Violation of Restraining Orders
  • Reckless Driving / Exhibition of Speed
  • Assault and Battery (with no minimum injury)
  • Domestic Violence
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