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Note that some criminal offenses in California are wobblers. Wobblers are crimes that a prosecutor can charge as either:
a misdemeanor or an infraction, or
a misdemeanor or a felony.
Prosecutors often make the decision as to which type of offense to file by examining:
the facts of the case, and
a defendant’s criminal history.
1. What are the possible sentences for a California misdemeanor?
The specific penalties imposed for a California misdemeanor will typically vary depending on whether the crime is a standard misdemeanor or an aggravated misdemeanor.
Standard misdemeanors are offenses that are usually punishable by a maximum of:
six months in county jail time (as opposed to a state prison sentence), and /or
a fine of up to $1,000.1
The penalties for these misdemeanors are often not set forth in the specific statute corresponding to a particular crime. Rather, California Penal Code 19 PC provides the general guidelines for standard misdemeanor sentences.2
Under California law, the consequences for an aggravated or gross misdemeanor conviction can include:
county jail sentences of up to 364 days, and/or
fines of up to $1,000 or more.
Unlike with standard misdemeanors, the statutesthat set forth each gross misdemeanors usually provide for the maximum sentence that a judge may impose for these offenses.3
Note that judges will normally not award a sentence near the maximum range authorized by law unless a defendant:
has a criminal history or criminal record which includes prior convictions,
committed a crime with a weapon (like a deadly weapon), and/or
caused a “victim” to suffer a serious injury.
In contrast to misdemeanor crimes, felony sentences often include prison time of up to three years (or even longer with the most severe felony charges), and/or substantial fines.4
Felony convictions can grow much more serious when it comes to sentences when compared to misdemeanor convictions.
2. Can a person get probation for a misdemeanor?
Yes. In lieu of jail time or a fine, judges may sentence misdemeanor offenders in California criminal cases to misdemeanor probation.5
Misdemeanor probation is sometimes referred to as “summary” or “informal” probation.
Misdemeanor probation typically lasts for one year unless a crime’s statute specifies otherwise. During that time, the defendant must adhere to certain conditions in order to stay out of jail.
Common conditions of probation in misdemeanor cases can include (without limitation):
community service or labor,
electronic monitoring or house arrest,
participation in counseling/treatment programs, and /or
paying victim restitution.6
Note that if a person commits a probation violation, the sentencing judge can:
ignore the violation,
impose harsher probation conditions, or
revoke probation and force the probationer to serve out any remaining jail time for his/her offense.7
3. What are wobblers under California’s criminal laws?
Some California offenses are charged as wobblers. A prosecutor can charge a wobbler as either:
a misdemeanor or a felony, or
a misdemeanor or an infraction.
How the prosecutor chooses to charge a wobbler offense depends on:
To be eligible to expunge a California misdemeanor, the defendant:
must have successfully completed probation, and
must not currently be charged with, on probation for, or serving a sentence for a criminal offense.9
If asked about a criminal history on a job application or in an interview, a defendant does not need to disclose an expunged conviction.
Note that people convicted of a misdemeanor crime should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney on the issue of expungement. A criminal defense lawyer can advise a client on whether an expungement is truly available for his/her criminal charges.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.