What is a Misdemeanor?

Criminal offenses are classified into 3 categories, depending on the severity: (1) infraction, (2) misdemeanor or (3) felony. Infractions are the least serious offenses and felonies the most. Law enforcement citations and court documents will typically include the letter “M,” “I” or “F” noted next to the criminal statute to indicate the level of offense being charged. Level “M” in jail means a misdemeanor charge.

In California, a misdemeanor is defined as any criminal offense that carries a maximum sentence of up to one year in county jail. Cal Penal Code § 18.5 defines any misdemeanor sentence of “up to one year in county jail” to be no more than 364 days in jail. This adjustment was enacted in 2015 to avoid triggering the harsh federal immigration consequences for sentences of 1 year or more.

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Penalties, jail sentence for misdemeanor conviction

The #1 goal of a skilled misdemeanor lawyer is to get your misdemeanor charges dismissed or reduced and to minimize penalties. The severity of misdemeanor penalties and jail sentences for conviction vary based on the category of crime:

  • Standard misdemeanor is punishable by up to a 6 months jail sentence and up to $1,000 court fine. Common standard misdemeanors include trespassing, petty theft and lewd conduct.
  • Aggravated misdemeanor (also known as a “gross misdemeanor”) is punishable by up to a 364 day jail sentence and up to $1,000 or more in fines. Common aggravated misdemeanors include spousal battery, DUI and grand theft.

Typically the punishment is specified in the law defining the crime. For any misdemeanor crimes that do not state the punishment, you can go to jail for a maximum sentence of 6 months and/or pay a $1,000 fine. (Cal Penal Code § 19)

Misdemeanor probation

A sentencing judge can impose misdemeanor probation (also known as “informal probation” or “summary probation”) as an alternative to some or all of the jail sentence for low-risk offenders. Courts give summary probation with the goal protecting the public, rehabilitating the offender and restoring victim losses (Cal Penal Code § 1202.7). Misdemeanor probation periods are usually 1 to 3 years, but can be up to 5 years.

Misdemeanor probation conditions

Sentencing judges have wide discretion when creating probation conditions as long as they serve justice and are reasonably and logically related to the offense. Some conditions are required by law while others are solely at the judges’ discretion.

The most common misdemeanor probation conditions are:

  1. Payment of court fines and costs.
  2. Community service or labor programs.
  3. Mandatory treatment, counseling or education programs.
  4. Restraining order conditions related to domestic violence crimes.
  5. Pay restitution for victim damages.
  6. Abstain from drug and/or drug use and attend alcohol, AA, NA or other substance abuse programs related to DUI or drug crimes.
  7. Be subject to random drug tests.
  8. Install an ignition interlock device due to a DUI conviction.
  9. Prohibition from driving with any measurable blood alcohol during DUI probation.
  10. Make a good faith effort to find employment.
  11. Agree to attend all court dates and to not violate any laws.
Illustration comparing infraction, misdemeanor and felony criminal offenses along with the concept of wobbler and wobblette offenses.

What is a “wobbler” offense?

California wobbler crimes are defined as criminal offenses that prosecutors have discretion whether to file as a misdemeanor or felony based on the defendant’s criminal history and case facts. There are also less serious wobblers that may be filed as an infraction or a misdemeanor, sometimes referred to as “wobblettes.”

Common misdemeanor / felony wobblers

There are hundreds of wobbler offenses. Some of the most commonly filed include:

Common misdemeanor / infraction wobblettes

Some of the most commonly filed wobblettes that may be charged as either an infraction or misdemeanor include:

  • Criminal trespass 602 pc
  • Disturbing the peace 415 pc
  • Driving without a license 12500 vc
  • Exhibition of speed 23109 vc
  • Driving with revoked or suspended license 14601.1 vc

Chudnovsky Law lawyers utilize many types of criminal defense attorney strategies to argue why an alleged offense should be dismissed or wobbler offenses charged at the lowest level possible.

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Will I have a criminal record?

If you plead guilty, plead no contest or are found guilty in a court trial, you will have a criminal conviction on your record. One exception is if you complete certain drug diversion programs, the court will dismiss the charges and clear your record.

Conviction for a misdemeanor offense will be on your criminal record visible to employers, law enforcement, landlords and any others performing a public record background check. Criminal convictions are also reported to professional licensing agencies and can trigger professional license disciplinary actions for physicians, nurses, dentists, chiropractors, teachers and contractors among many other state licensees.

Other consequences of conviction

Some misdemeanor convictions are subject to other statutory consequences. For example, certain weapons charges and domestic violence offenses can cause the loss of the right to own, possess or purchase a firearm. Conviction of 314 pc indecent exposure can trigger a lifetime Megan’s Law sex offender registration requirement.

Misdemeanor convictions will stay on your criminal record unless you expunge the charge, win on appeal or have the record sealed.

Misdemeanor Definition

Can I expunge a misdemeanor from my record?

Under Cal Penal Code § 1203.4, you can petition the court for dismissal, or “expungement” of a prior criminal conviction at the end of probation. If the misdemeanor expungement is granted by the court, you will be released from virtually “all penalties and disabilities” arising from the conviction.

One of the main benefits of expungement is that you will no longer need to disclose the conviction to potential employers. In order to be eligible for expungement:

  1. You must have successfully completed probation for the offense.
  2. You must not be currently charged with a criminal offense.
  3. You cannot be on probation for a criminal offense.
  4. You cannot be serving a sentence for a criminal offense.
  5. You were not convicted for certain sex crimes involving children.

To learn more about expungement of criminal records, contact us to speak with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys.

“Lawyer Tsion recently handled a complex case for my family member. She and her paralegals are beyond reproach. We were hoping for a plea reduction to dry reckless on a Los Angeles DUI charge. Ms Chudnovsky got the Airport Court case entirely dismissed with no probation or monetary fines. We would recommend her and her associates to those looking for capable defense attorneys.”


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What is the misdemeanor court process?

California misdemeanor criminal court cases are handled in the following stages:

  1. Law enforcement arrest.
  2. Criminal charges originate from a law enforcement investigation or police report that is delivered to a filing District Attorney who evaluates whether there is probable cause to file criminal charges.
  3. Court arraignment. At arraignment you will learn what the prosecutor is formally charging you with, your rights and enter a plea of not guilty, guilty or no contest.
  4. Bail hearing. You may be released on bail, on your own recognizance or be held in jail until your case is resolved.
  5. After arraignment the DA and defense attorneys exchange discovery, file pre-trial motions and negotiate how to resolve the case without going to trial.
  6. Trial, where your innocence or guilt is decided by a judge or jury.

Only a small percentage of cases are decided via a trial. The prosecutor can drop their case at any time. Most matters are resolved via negotiation with the District Attorney. There are many ways skilled lawyers help you secure the best possible outcome.

What are misdemeanor immigration consequences?

Noncitizens must be very careful about criminal convictions and arrests. While most misdemeanor offenses typically do not trigger deportation, they can have major immigration consequences. Some example issues immigrants face:

  • Misdemeanor DUI conviction eliminates DACA eligibility.
  • Domestic violence, sexual abuse or exploitation, burglary, unlawful possession or use of a firearm, drug distribution or drug trafficking crimes eliminate DACA eligibility and affect eligibility for immigrant visas and green cards.
  • Simply being arrested can cause an international student F1 visa revocation, even before charges have been filed or you’ve had an opportunity to defend yourself.

The intersection between criminal and immigration laws is one of the most complex areas of U.S. law. When facing any criminal charge, noncitizens need a lawyer with expertise in both immigration and criminal law. Tsion Chudnovsky is a criminal immigration attorney with extensive experience defending noncitizens from every type of criminal allegation.

California passed PC § 1016.2 and PC § 1016.3 which require that prosecutors consider immigration consequences when resolving criminal cases. To learn about how how we use these laws to protect noncitizens, contact us for a free consultation.

RELATED: Guide to Deportable Offenses

Best Criminal Defense Attorneys

Experienced criminal defense attorneys

If you or a loved one are charged with a crime or are under investigation, it is important to protect yourself and consult an experienced misdemeanor defense lawyer as early as possible in the process. What may seem like a minor misdemeanor offense can trigger consequences that affect you and your family for life.

Experience you can trust

Chudnovsky Law is a team of experienced criminal defense attorneys known and respected by both District Attorneys and the courts as smart, effective attorneys for our clients. Our three senior attorneys have a combined 65+ years experience helping clients through some of life’s most stressful challenges.

Chudnovsky Law is rated Top 100 Trial Lawyers by The National Trial Lawyers, an award only given to a select group of premier trial lawyers from across the United States that have demonstrated exceptional qualifications in their area of the law. The firm also maintains an Avvo 10.0 Superb Rating and Martindale 5 Star Rating.

We encourage you to read our attorney bios and read client testimonials to learn more about our award-winning attorneys. They have successfully handled over 8,000 cases and jury trials. Call us at (844) 325-1444 for a free consultation.


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If you are looking to hire a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to call 844 325-1444 for a Free consultation.

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