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What Is a Serious Misdemeanor in California? 2024

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What Is a Serious Misdemeanor in California? 2024

Violations of the law in California are categorized as infractions, misdemeanors, or felonies. Infractions are the least severe and are considered to be part of civil court, not criminal court. Infractions cannot result in jail time. Felonies are the most serious type of criminal charge and can lead to imprisonment, fines, a criminal record, and other serious penalties.

Misdemeanors do not have as severe penalties as felonies, but they should be taken seriously. A misdemeanor charge in California can still lead to jail time, fines, and a criminal record that can ruin future opportunities in your life. If you are facing a misdemeanor charge, it’s important to understand the different levels of misdemeanors and how these charges can impact your life.

Misdemeanors Categorization

Misdemeanors can carry sentences with fines, jail time, and alternative sentencing. Alternative sentencing may include community service, probation, house arrest or home detention, and rehabilitative educational courses or treatment. Probation for a misdemeanor is generally three to five years. Alternative sentencing is more likely for first-time offenders who committed nonviolent crimes. A misdemeanor sentence cannot include prison time.

  • Simple Misdemeanors: For a standard misdemeanor, the maximum penalty is generally six months in county jail and fines up to $1,000. Simple misdemeanors include charges such as petty theft, drug possession, prostitution, and drunk in public charges.
  • Aggravated Misdemeanors: Certain misdemeanors are automatically considered aggravated, while others become aggravated because of circumstances like repeat offenses or the specifics of the crime committed. An aggravated or gross misdemeanor is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and fines of $1,000 or more. Aggravated misdemeanors include domestic violence, domestic battery, violating a restraining order, or driving under the influence (DUI) without causing injury.

Not all misdemeanor charges will result in the maximum penalty. If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor, a criminal defense attorney is your greatest chance at limiting the severity of penalties or getting charges dropped.

Wobblers in California

A wobbler is a crime that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the unique circumstances of the crime and your criminal history. Because wobblers have the potential to be charged as a felony, with significantly more severe penalties, they are among the most serious misdemeanors. Common charges that could be sentenced as felonies or misdemeanors include:

  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Grand theft
  • Brandishing a weapon
  • Elder Abuse
  • Criminal threats
  • Second-degree burglary
  • Embezzlement
  • Sexual battery

The prosecution controls how the crime is charged, and a defense attorney is an invaluable asset when avoiding felony charges.

Life-Long Consequences of a Criminal Record

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor or plead guilty or no contest, you will have a criminal record in addition to the criminal consequences of conviction. A criminal record can change the rest of your life even after your sentence is complete. The consequences of a misdemeanor criminal record may include:

  • Harming your ability to keep or obtain a job,
  • Preventing you from applying for certain types of housing,
  • Limiting your educational opportunities, including universities and vocational schooling,
  • Preventing you from securing professional licenses or losing prior licenses,
  • Losing your rights to own or buy a firearm for certain charges, and
  • Having a difficult time obtaining loans.

Can a Misdemeanor Conviction Impact My Immigration Status?

When you are a non-citizen, such as a permanent resident, green-card holder, or visa holder, a criminal charge can lead to additional consequences. It can be hard to know for sure whether a criminal offense will impact your immigration status. Any criminal conviction could potentially lead to deportation. However, most misdemeanors do not result in deportation unless they involve drug crimes, firearm-related offenses, or domestic violence.


Q: Is a Misdemeanor a Serious Crime in California?

A: A misdemeanor in California, like most states, is more serious than an infraction, which you cannot get jail time for. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, but both lead to criminal records. A misdemeanor in California carries penalties of no more than one year in county jail and fines of up to $1,000. Though it is less serious than a felony, it should not be taken lightly. Misdemeanors can still result in jail time, fines, and other consequences like sex offender registration, depending on the charge.

Q: What Categories Do California Misdemeanors Fall Into?

A: A misdemeanor can be categorized as either a simple misdemeanor or an aggravated misdemeanor. A simple misdemeanor results in up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,000. Simple misdemeanors include charges such as petty theft, drug possession, shoplifting, and certain trespassing charges. An aggravated or gross misdemeanor is more serious. It is either a more severe offense or a simple misdemeanor with aggravating factors, such as prior offenses. Penalties for an aggravated misdemeanor are up to 364 days in jail and fines of up to $1,000. Charges include driving under the influence (DUI) and domestic battery.

Q: Do First-Time Misdemeanor Offenders Go to Jail in California?

A: In California, a first-time misdemeanor offender may serve jail time, or they may serve their sentence through summary probation or other alternative sentencing. This varies based on the misdemeanor committed, any aggravating or mitigating factors, and the skill and experience of their defense attorney. Those charged with nonviolent misdemeanors as their first offense are more likely to receive probation than those charged with violent offenses. Misdemeanor probation in California may last anywhere from one to five years. Failing to follow the terms of probation will result in further charges.

Q: What Is the New Law for Misdemeanors in California?

A: Since January 2021, misdemeanors can be diverted by the case’s judge, even against the prosecution’s wishes, in specific circumstances. Rather than prosecuting the defendant, the judge may divert the misdemeanor case for up to 24 months, requiring the defendant to complete certain terms, programs, treatments, and other conditions. If these terms are followed, the defendant can avoid prosecution, and the judge will dismiss the case. This law does not apply to misdemeanor offenses involving domestic violence, stalking, or those that require the defendant to register as a sex offender.

Contact U.S. Law Center Today

Criminal charges should be taken very seriously, especially if you are not a citizen of the U.S. When you need experienced legal defense, contact U.S. Law Center.

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