A misdemeanor is a crime that carries with it up to a year in jail typically. It can also carry a maximum fine of $1,000.00. There are a number of different types of misdemeanors — ones that I would characterize as high-grade and low-grade misdemeanors. A higher grade misdemeanor would be like a domestic violence charge for example. Whereas, a lower grade misdemeanor would be like a disturbing the peace-type charge. Not all misdemeanors have a top of one year. Some misdemeanors have a top of six months. For example, a first-time DUI has a 6-month top, whereas a second-time DUI has a 1-year top.
Other matters have even as low as a ninety-day maximum sentence. So, misdemeanors are definitely crimes and you’re entitled to have a jury trial for a misdemeanor. Whereas, for an infraction, you’re not entitled to have a jury trial. As far as the general information about an infraction, the most you could be fined for an infraction will be $100 plus penalty assessment. There’s a 200% penalty assessment on all fines in Los Angeles County. So, in that scenario, you would be somewhere in the $300 to $400 were you to get a $100 plus penalty assessment.
The biggest thing about infractions that I consider different than misdemeanors is I think there’s a pretty strong argument that an infraction is not a crime. It’s just a public offense. It didn’t use to be that you could even file what they called an expungement motion on an infraction. Now, you’re actually able to do that. But that expungement term is a little bit deceiving because there’s no such thing as a true expungement in California that completely wipes a crime or an infraction off of somebody’s record. Basically, it dismisses the case and it shows the case as dismissed in the Minute Order and typically, if someone were to do a live scan and look at their record or if somebody else looked at their record, it would also show that that case was pending and had been dismissed.
So, obviously, if you have to choose between an infraction and a misdemeanor, you’re going to pick the infraction every time. They can’t put you on probation for an infraction, and again, the most important distinction in my opinion, is that an infraction is not a crime; whereas, a misdemeanor is a crime. Therefore, you’re entitled to a jury trial to try to defend yourself in a misdemeanor; whereas, in an infraction, you’re not entitled to a jury trial. You typically are entitled to a court trial to let the judge decide whether you’re innocent or guilty of whatever infraction you’re being charged with.
A lot of cases can be charged as infractions or misdemeanors. For example, driving on a suspended license can be charged as an infraction — just a traffic defense — and there is usually a fine attached to it. They can also charge it, if it’s serious enough, as a misdemeanor, in which case you could be looking at spending some time in jail. A lot of times we see people being charged with driving on a suspended license related to DUI’s where their license was suspended because of a DUI and they end up picking up a new case and driving on a suspended license because of the DUI — that’s typically going to be filed as a misdemeanor and there are a mandatory minimum ten days of jail for that sort of offense.
So, as you can see in assessing the whole infraction/misdemeanor conundrum, there are a lot of things going on there and you’re going to definitely want an attorney who’s been doing it for twenty-five years, like me, to sort things out for you and try to get you the best resolution. If you’ve got a warrant for an infraction or for a misdemeanor, you want to get an attorney in there. Get it taken care of. Get it off your record so you’re not looking over your shoulder, and that’s definitely something that we can do.
Pick up the phone. Make the call and we’ll get this thing moving in the right direction.
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