Unlawful acts fall into three categories: felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions. Though the commission of any unlawful act brings consequences, felonies and misdemeanors can lead to incarceration and/or fines. Misdemeanor charges are not as serious as felonies but can still have a significant negative effect on the offender’s life.
If you have been arrested and charged with a misdemeanor, protect yourself from these consequences by retaining legal counsel from a California criminal defense attorney from Simmrin Law Group right away.
What Is a Misdemeanor?
A misdemeanor is a criminal act punishable by up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1000. There are two types of misdemeanor charges: standard misdemeanors and aggravated (or gross) misdemeanors.
- Standard Misdemeanors come with sentences of up to six months in jail and up to $1000 in fines. Common examples include shoplifting, trespass, and drug possession.
- Gross misdemeanors increase jail time to up to one year and maintain the potential for fines. Common examples include domestic battery, Driving Under the Influence (DUI) without causing injury, and violation of a restraining order.
There are specific misdemeanors with fines of up to $2000, including:
- PC241: Assaulting a healthcare provider
- VC 14601.1(a): Driving on a suspended license
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Do Offenders Convicted of Misdemeanors Always Go to Jail?
Judges have the discretion to impose jail sentences, fines, or probation for offenders convicted of misdemeanor charges. In other words, misdemeanor convictions do not always lead to jail time. Judges consider a variety of factors, such as the offender’s criminal history, whether the offender used a weapon in committing the crime, and whether victims suffered a serious injury in determining sentences.
What Are the Terms of Misdemeanor Probation?
Misdemeanor probation, also called “summary” or “informal” probation, usually lasts for one year. During that year, offenders must comply with the conditions, or terms of their probation, to avoid being put in custody.
Among others, common conditions of misdemeanor probation are:
- Electronic monitoring
- Attendance at counseling and/or treatment programs
- Community service
- Paying restitution to victims
If an offender violates probation, the judge can impose harsher probationary terms or revoke probation and require the offender to serve the remaining jail time for the offense.
Does a Misdemeanor Appear on the Offender’s Criminal Record?
Misdemeanor convictions appear on an offender’s record if the defendant pleads guilty, “no contest,” or receives a guilty verdict at trial.
- By offering a guilty plea, offenders admit to committing the crime. Following a guilty plea, the case enters the sentencing phase. There is no jury trial.
- By offering a plea of “no contest,” also called “nolo contendere,” offenders accept the conviction for the charge. However, this acceptance can not be used against them as an admission of guilt in some potential civil proceedings.
- By offering a plea of “not guilty,” offenders claim they are innocent of the charges against them. This plea puts the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at a criminal trial.
There are exceptions to the misdemeanor appearing on an offender’s criminal record. If the offender completes California’s drug diversion program successfully (for a drug-related crime), a judge can dismiss the misdemeanor charges.
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Can Misdemeanors Be Expunged from an Offender’s Criminal Record?
Under California Law §1203.4, many misdemeanor convictions can be expunged from an offender’s record. Exceptions include convictions of certain misdemeanor sex crimes, such as statutory rape. For a judge to consider an expungement, defendants must
- Complete their probation, showing compliance with all conditions throughout.
- Not be facing current criminal charges
- Not be on probation for other criminal offenses
Once the record is expunged, offenders do not have to disclose the conviction (or its expungement) on job applications.
What Are the Long-Term Consequences of Misdemeanor Convictions?
Offenders who are employed when sentenced to jail may lose not only their current but future status with their employer. Those holding professional licenses, such as teachers, lawyers, or doctors, can face disciplinary action. If misdemeanor charges are not expunged from their records, offenders will have to disclose their criminal history, if asked, on future job applications.
College-attending offenders may struggle to both pay fines and tuition or attend classes and court dates. If sentenced to jail, they will see their graduation timelines pushed back.
Some misdemeanor offenses come with additional requirements. For example, if convicted of indecent exposure (PC 314), offenders may be required to register as sex offenders under PC §290.
Do Misdemeanor Offenders Lose Any Rights?
Misdemeanor charges do not affect voting rights. Unless the charge is for domestic violence, offenders do not lose their right to own a firearm. Though most misdemeanor charges do not lead to deportation, those involving drugs, firearms, or domestic violence can put an offender’s immigration status in jeopardy.
How Are Misdemeanors Different from Infractions and Felonies?
Misdemeanors are more serious than infractions but less serious than felonies. Infractions are unlawful acts, but not actual crimes. They are punishable by fines of up to $250.
Felonies are crimes punishable by years, even life, in prison, fines of up to $10,000, and in the most severe cases, the death penalty. Some offenses fall into the “wobbler” category, which means they can be tried and punished as either felonies or misdemeanors. Typically, prosecutors decide which class of charge to pursue.
The following factors, among others, affect the decision:
- The offender’s age
- The offender’s criminal record
- The severity of the act
- The strength of the prosecution’s case
- The likelihood the offender will continue committing criminal acts
- The defendant’s level of cooperation with law enforcement
Having a skilled criminal defense attorney to negotiate with the prosecution increases the offender’s chances of having wobblers tried as misdemeanors.
If You Are Facing Misdemeanor Charges, Speak with a Criminal Defense Lawyer Immediately
Misdemeanor penalties can have long-term effects. An experienced criminal defense lawyer is your best chance to have charges and penalties reduced or dismissed. Your lawyer will advocate for your interests, making sure you are treated fairly by the criminal justice system throughout your case.
Simmrin Law Group is committed to providing those facing charges with a strong defense. Contact us today for a free consultation.