What is a Misdemeanor Crime in California?

Anyone charged with a crime in California, especially a first-time arrest, is usually stressed and does not know what to expect. This means they will have a lot of concerns and questions about the criminal justice system.

One of their first thoughts is about the crime they were charged with. California, like other states, have various levels of crimes that include infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies, which are the most severe charge.

Misdemeanor Crimes in California

Other crimes fall under a “wobbler” category that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecutor's decision is usually based on the details of the case and the perpetrator's criminal history.

We will focus on misdemeanor crimes and how the criminal courts and prosecutors handle these charges within the criminal case process.

First, a misdemeanor crime is less serious than a felony, and it can't result in serving time in state prison but rather a county jail.

A “misdemeanor” is a crime with a maximum sentence of no longer than one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Still, an aggravated misdemeanor could carry an increased sentence.

Alternatively, a misdemeanor conviction could result in three to five years of probation. In Los Angeles County, misdemeanors are usually filed by the City Attorney's Office or the District Attorney's Office, depending on where the crime occurred.  

After you are arrested for a misdemeanor, the case will follow the typical stages of the criminal case process that include the following:

  • arraignment,
  • bail hearing,
  • pretrial, and
  • jury or bench trial.

However, most cases never reach a trial as they are settled through negotiation or a plea bargain. Let's review this topic further below.

What Are the Common Misdemeanors?

Some of the most standard and common misdemeanor crimes in California include the following:

  • Penal Code 459.5 PC - Shoplifting;
  • Penal Code 484(a) PC - Petty theft;
  • Penal Code 496 PC – Receive stolen property;
  • Penal Code 647(f) PC – Drunk in public;
  • Health and Safety Code 11350 HS - Drug possession;
  • Vehicle Code 23152 VC - Driving under the Influence;
  • Vehicle Code 23103 PC - Reckless driving;
  • Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC - Domestic battery;
  • Penal Code 602 PC - Trespassing;
  • Penal Code 273.6 PC - Violate a restraining order;
  • Penal Code 240 PC - Assault;
  • Penal Code 242 PC - Battery;
  • Penal Code 415 PC - Disturbing the peace;
  • Penal Code 647 PC - Disorderly conduct;
  • Penal Code 314 PC - Indecent exposure (first offense);
  • Penal Code 647(b) PC – Solicitation of prostitution;
  • Vehicle Code 14601 PC - Driving on a suspended license.

As noted above, the misdemeanor penalties are up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000, but some will carry six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

Further, many misdemeanor convictions will result in the judge imposing probation only and a fine or community service time rather than jail time.

Is Probation Only Possible for Misdemeanors?

Yes. Anyone who was convicted of a misdemeanor in California will typically be placed on probation and ordered to follow specific terms and conditions, such as the following:

  • Pay court fines and fees;
  • Pay victim restitution;
  • Perform community service;
  • Attend counseling or therapy classes;
  • Submit to alcohol or drug testing;
  • House arrest and electronic monitoring;
  • Have a restraining or protective order placed on them that prohibits victim contact in domestic violence cases.

Misdemeanor convictions usually result in a criminal record, but they do not result in losing your legal right to own or possess a firearm. A misdemeanor conviction might result in disciplinary action if you possess a professional license, such as a doctor, attorney, or teacher.

For some misdemeanor convictions, like Penal Code 314 PC indecent exposure, it's possible to face mandatory Penal Code 290 PC sex offender registration. Most misdemeanors are eligible for a California Penal Code 1203.4 PC expungement after completing probation.

What Are the Common “Wobbler” Crimes?

A “wobbler” in California can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony based on different factors, and some of the most common include the following:

Of note is that a wobbler can't carry more than one year in county jail.  Further, if the wobbler was charged as a felony crime, it might be possible to reduce it to a misdemeanor by a motion to the judge or through a plea agreement with the prosecutor.

How Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Help You?

If you were charged with a misdemeanor crime, you should consult an experienced California criminal defense attorney to review the case details and legal options.

We know how to develop effective defense strategies for misdemeanor or wobbler charges. Perhaps we negotiate with the prosecutor to get the charges reduced or dismissed.

Perhaps prefiling negotiations with law enforcement and the prosecution agency can persuade them not to file charges in the first place (DA reject).

Early intervention in your case could impact the outcome of the case. Due to our decades of experience in criminal law, we are well known by the local prosecutors and judges in the Los Angeles County criminal courthouses. In addition, the Hedding Law Firm offers a free case evaluation via phone or contact form.