How big a problem is a misdemeanour charge? In California, a person may incur criminal charges for a felony or misdemeanor. Generally speaking, a felony conviction is punishable by more than one year of incarceration and other potential penalties, like monetary fines. A misdemeanor conviction, on the other hand, is less severe than a felony.
Generally speaking, misdemeanors are punishable by one year or less of incarceration in the county jail, a maximum monetary fine of $1,000, or both, depending upon the specific case circumstances. Moreover, unless the criminal statute says differently, any misdemeanor offense will carry a maximum county jail time of six months. The legislature determines the penalty ranges for felony and misdemeanor convictions and codifies them into the state statute.
Criminal sentences for some misdemeanors only allow for a period of probation, along with community service and monetary fines. While a few misdemeanors carry maximum monetary penalties of $2,000, some misdemeanor convictions may carry higher penalties.
If you are currently pending a criminal misdemeanor charge, you should have a skilled criminal defense attorney advocating for you. Even though misdemeanors are less-serious crimes than felonies, they may still carry significant penalties upon conviction. Moreover, if you incur a misdemeanor conviction, you can face numerous collateral consequences that affect you for the rest of your life.
When you retain a skilled misdemeanour defense lawyer to represent you in your criminal case, they can evaluate the circumstances and determine if you are eligible to successfully raise one or more legal defenses to your pending misdemeanor charge. Moreover, your lawyer can stand by your side and aggressively advocate for you during all criminal court proceedings, including hearings, bench trials, and jury trials.
Finally, if you ultimately sustain a conviction on a misdemeanor offense, your lawyer can represent you at your sentencing hearing and work to minimize the penalties you receive. Your lawyer will do everything they can to help ensure that you receive a fair penalty in these circumstances.
What Is a Misdemeanor?
Like felonies, criminal misdemeanors are also severe offenses. However, unlike felonies, misdemeanors carry less jail time and fewer penalties upon conviction.
Some of the most common misdemeanors in California include:
- Indecent exposure
- Petty theft
- Violating a restraining order that is in place
- Domestic battery
- Public intoxication
- Disturbing the peace
- Disorderly conduct
- Driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Receipt of stolen goods
- Driving a car on a suspended license
- Reckless driving
- Illegal drug possession
Everyone should note that these are not the only misdemeanor charges you can face. However, they are the most common charges that state prosecutors issue in criminal cases.
If you are currently facing any of these misdemeanor charges, you should retain a skilled criminal defense lawyer to handle your case as soon as possible. Your lawyer can get to work right away on developing a robust legal defense that can potentially lead to a complete dismissal of your criminal case. Your lawyer can also explore your available legal options and help you select the best choice for your case.
Receiving Probation for a Misdemeanor Charge
When the state prosecutor satisfies their legal burden of proof in a misdemeanor case, a judge will typically place the defendant on probation. As part of their probation, the defendant must satisfy several conditions the sentencing judge imposes. Those conditions may include paying monetary fines of various amounts, completing a certain number of supervised community service hours, serving a fixed period of jail time, or attending drug and alcohol rehabilitation classes.
In some instances, the defendant may need to attend counseling or pay the victim restitution. Finally, in some situations, the sentencing judge may subject the defendant to a period of electronic monitoring.
In domestic violence cases, the court will typically issue a protective or restraining order against the defendant. Under the terms of this order, the defendant may be unable to contact—either electronically or in person—the individual who petitions the court for protection.
In some instances, the defendant may be unable to contact their children if their names are part of the court’s protective order. If a defendant violates any of the conditions listed in their protective order, the state prosecutor can charge them with a whole new crime, for which the defendant may incur additional penalties upon conviction.
What Are Some Common Wobbler Crimes in California?
In California, a prosecutor may charge wobbler offenses either as a misdemeanor or a felony. If a particular crime is a wobbler, the state prosecutor can decide how to file charges. The prosecutor’s decision typically depends on the circumstances surrounding the case, the defendant’s prior history of criminal convictions, if any—and the quality of their criminal defense legal team.
Some of the most common wobbler offenses in California include:
- Second-degree burglary
- Grand theft
- Brandishing a weapon
- Assault involving a deadly weapon
- Corporal injury to a spouse
- Sexual battery
- Elder abuse
- Criminal threats
When the state prosecutor decides to charge one of these crimes as a misdemeanor, the potential penalties upon conviction may not be more than one year of incarceration in the county jail.
In some cases, if the state prosecutor charges a wobbler offense as a felony, the defendant can obtain a charge reduction if they can secure a favorable plea deal from the state prosecutor. Alternatively, a criminal defense lawyer can file the appropriate motion with the court, asking for a charge reduction.
How Does an Accused Individual Sustain a Conviction on a Misdemeanor Charge?
In any criminal misdemeanor case, the criminal defendant does not need to take the witness stand and testify in their defense. This is due to their Fifth Amendment constitutional rights protecting them against self-incrimination. Since the defendant does not need to prove anything in their case, the state prosecutor has the sole legal burden of proof.
Moreover, the state prosecutor must fulfill their legal burden beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a very high standard to surpass. If the prosecutor cannot establish even one legal element of the underlying offense, the pending criminal charge and the entire criminal case may be subject to dismissal.
Fortunately, in many instances, the criminal defendant can allege a legal defense in response to their pending criminal charge. A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can then argue the defense in court, which may work to negate one or more legal elements of the prosecution’s case.
What Happens if a Court Convicts Me of a Misdemeanor Charge?
If you take your misdemeanor case to a bench or jury trial, and the finder of fact concludes that you are guilty as charged, a sentencing judge will be left to impose the necessary penalties. Depending upon the specific misdemeanor charge, judges often have discretion when assessing criminal penalties against a defendant. Generally, however, they must follow the sentencing guidelines the state legislature imposes for a particular charge.
Potential penalties for a criminal conviction can include time in jail, monetary fines, community service, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and court-ordered restitution, which the defendant must pay directly to the victim.
A qualified criminal defense attorney can represent you at your sentencing hearing and argue for a fair penalty. Even if you get conviction, you want a lawyer representing you and fighting for the least harsh sentence possible.
Do I Qualify for a Plea Deal from the State?
In some instances, it may be advantageous to negotiate a fair plea deal with the state prosecutor handling your case, and your lawyer can assist you during all plea deal negotiations.
In some instances, plea deals are worth accepting, while at other times, they are not. A prosecutor might put a plea deal on the table if they are not confident in their ability to secure a conviction against you if your case goes to trial.
In most plea deal arrangements, the defendant will agree to plead guilty to a charge in exchange for some concession by the state prosecutor. For example, the prosecutor might be willing to reduce the charge or offer the defendant a period of probation instead of a conviction. If the defendant completes all their probationary conditions successfully, the possibility of a conviction may go away. However, if the defendant completes the probation unsuccessfully, a judge can impose the original penalties for the charge, and the defendant will likely have a criminal conviction on their record.
When a defendant agrees to accept a plea deal, they give up various legal rights, including their right to appeal and their right to a trial by jury. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can help you determine, based on the circumstances of your case, whether it is a good idea to accept a particular plea deal that the state prosecutor places on the table.
How Can I Defend Against a Criminal Misdemeanor Charge?
If a state prosecutor has charged you with a criminal misdemeanor, you may be eligible to raise one or more legal defenses in court. If you are successful in asserting that defense in court, the presiding judge can dismiss your case.
Available legal defenses in a criminal misdemeanor case depend upon many factors, including the specific charge you’re facing. If your criminal arrest stemmed from a traffic stop, you can allege that the police officer who pulled your vehicle over did not have the necessary reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
For a police officer to initiate a traffic stop, they must—at the very least—have a reasonable suspicion that the driver committed a moving violation or committed a crime.
For example, an officer can pull a vehicle over if the driver slightly exceeded the speed limit, had a tail light out, or committed some other regulatory infraction. However, police officers may not initiate traffic stops at random or pull vehicles over without any cars whatsoever. If a police officer initiates an unlawful traffic stop and recovers incriminating evidence, the evidence that they obtain can be subject to suppression at trial, resulting in a case dismissal.
In addition, a criminal defendant can allege that a police officer violated their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. When a police officer arrests an individual and takes them into custody, the officer must apprise the defendant of their Miranda rights, explaining that they have a legal right to the presence of counsel during any police custodial interrogation.
If the defendant requests an attorney’s presence during questioning, but the officer continues to question them, any incriminating statements that the defendant later makes may be subject to suppression in court.
At other times, criminal defendants can allege an alibi, stating that they were somewhere else at the time of the alleged incident. They can also argue that an individual mistakenly identified them in a lineup.
In cases that involve assault or domestic violence, a criminal defendant may argue that they were defending themselves. However, for self-defense to be effective, the defendant must not have used a greater amount of force than what the alleged victim used against them.
Finally, in drug possession cases, the defendant can argue that they were unaware that illegal drugs were present in the area where the police officer found them, such as in a home or vehicle.
A skilled criminal defense attorney can let you know which of these defenses you can allege at your trial, given the circumstances surrounding your criminal arrest and charge.
Call an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney to Represent You Today
If you are currently pending a criminal misdemeanor charge, the sooner you involve an experienced criminal defense lawyer to handle your case, the better off you will be. The legal system is complicated. You should not try and navigate it yourself.
Your lawyer can explain all of your legal options in easy-to-understand terms and help you decide how best to proceed with your case. Your criminal defense lawyer will do everything possible to help you achieve a fair and reasonable case result.
Never take a misdemeanor charge lightly. Even if you believe your charge is minor, you should need a strong defense from a criminal defense lawyer.