According to California law, a misdemeanor is an offense whose jail time doesn't exceed one year in county jail. A misdemeanor offense is less severe than a felony but more severe than an infraction. Many people may dismiss a misdemeanor as a minor offense. However, under certain circumstances, a misdemeanor may lead to mandatory jail time, probation, and hefty fines. If accused of a misdemeanor in Pasadena, CA, The Law Offices of Fountain & Hattersley can help you create a convincing defense to the charges.
Types of Misdemeanors Under California Law
There are two significant categories of misdemeanor offenses under California law:
- Standard misdemeanor offenses
- Aggravated or gross misdemeanor offenses
A standard misdemeanor offense in California is punishable by a jail time that doesn't exceed six months in county jail. For a standard misdemeanor offense, the court may also impose a fine that doesn't exceed $1,000.
Committing an aggravated or a gross misdemeanor offense could lead to imprisonment of up to one year in a California county jail. The court may also impose a hefty fine that doesn't exceed $1,000.
In some instances, a crime may be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the prosecutor's discretion. Offenses that a prosecutor may charge as felonies or misdemeanors are known as wobbler offenses.
You should always seek legal defense even when you’ve committed a seemingly minor standard misdemeanor offense. Some of the common standard misdemeanor offenses in California include:
Possession of Drugs - California’s HS 11350
According to California HS 11350, it’s a misdemeanor offense to possess a controlled substance unlawfully. You should not possess a controlled substance if you don’t have a valid prescription. If the prosecutor plans to accuse you of this offense, he/she has to prove that:
- You possessed a controlled substance
- You did not have a valid prescription to possess the controlled substance
- You knew about the presence of the controlled substance
- You also knew that the substance you possessed was a controlled substance. This means that you understood the nature of the product.
- The substance you possessed was in a usable amount.
Some of the typically controlled substances in California include drugs like heroin and prescription medication like Vicodin. It’s important to note that the misdemeanor charges apply to simple possession of a controlled substance. It means that you possessed the controlled substance for personal use. Higher charges may apply if you possess a controlled substance for sale. Possession of a controlled substance is punishable by imprisonment of up to one year in county jail. The court may also require you to pay a penalty that does not exceed $1,000. Instead of jail time, the judge may recommend a misdemeanor or summary probation.
Public Intoxication - PC 647(f)
Under the California PC 647(f), public intoxication is a misdemeanor offense. You could face these charges for being under the influence of drugs or alcohol while at a public place. The level of intoxication should be in such a manner that you are unable to take care of your safety and other people's safety. This misdemeanor offense is punishable by jail time that does not exceed six months. The court may also have you pay a fine that does not exceed $1,000. If you are arrested for this offense, your attorney can help you create a convincing defense. Some of the typical defenses for public intoxication under PC 647(f) are:
- You were not in a public place
- You became intoxication involuntarily
- You were not an obstruction of an interference
Indecent Exposure (First Offense) - PC 314
If you commit the first offense of indecent exposure under the California PC 314, you'll face standard misdemeanor charges under California law. California law defines indecent exposure as exposing your genitals or naked body parts to a person who would be offended by your actions.
This misdemeanor offense is punishable by a jail time that does not exceed six months in California’s county jail. You would also have to register as a sex offender after a conviction under PC 314. The crime of indecent exposure may seem like a minor offense. However, the consequences of this offense can be devastating.
You will get misdemeanor charges if you commit the first offense of indecent exposure. However, if you commit a second or a subsequent offense, you'll face felony charges that could subject you to imprisonment in a state prison in California. The worst part about an indecent exposure conviction is that you have to register as a sex offender for a minimum of ten years. With the help of your attorney, you can come up with some defenses to fight the charges. Some of the typical defenses are:
- You didn’t actually expose yourself.
- At the time of the indecent exposure, you were not aware that another person was present and that he or she would get offended by your actions.
- You did not expose yourself, but you were merely a victim of mistaken identity.
Prostitution Under PC 647(b)
According to California PC 647(b), it is illegal throughout California to solicit or engage in prostitution. Prostitution refers to paying or accepting money or another item of value in exchange for a sexual act. The sexual act may be either oral, vaginal, or anal. This law is applicable to both prostitutes and the clients.
The offense of prostitution carries a penalty of six months in county jail. The court may also impose a fine that does not exceed $1,000. The punishment for solicitation and prostitution increases with each subsequent offense you commit. If you commit a second offense, you will serve a mandatory minimum jail time of four days.
For a third or a subsequent offense, you will serve minimum mandatory jail time of 90 days. You would face enhanced penalties if the act of prostitution occurred in a vehicle. Additional charges will also apply if the prostitution occurred within 1000 feet of a residence. Prostitution in a vehicle could lead to a suspension of your driver’s license for up to 30 days. The offense could also lead to a restricted driver's license for up to six months. With your attorney's help, some of the defenses that you can use to fight the offense are:
- You were a victim of police entrapment.
- Lack of adequate trustworthy evidence
- Lack of intent to prostitute and insufficient evidence
Shoplifting Under PC 495.5
Shoplifting is a standard misdemeanor offense under the California PC 459.5. This offense entails entering an open business with the intent to steal merchandise worth $950 or less. The crime of shoplifting is punishable by a jail time not exceeding six months. The court may also require you to pay a fine of not more than $1,000. With your misdemeanor defense attorney’s help, some of the defenses that you can employ to fight charges under PC 495.5 are:
- Mistake of fact
- You had no intent to steal. You only formed the intent to steal after gaining access to the business.
Your attorney can come up with several effective strategies in a shoplifting case. Some of the effective strategies are:
- Having you perform various acts under the pretrial diversion program
- Developing a civil compromise
Other standard misdemeanors under California law are:
- Petty theft under California PC 484
- Certain trespassing charges under PC 602
Aggravated misdemeanor offenses are more severe than standard misdemeanor offenses. The penalties for misdemeanor offenses are also more stringent than those of standard misdemeanors. Some of the common aggravated misdemeanor offenses under California law are:
- Domestic battery under California PC 243(e)(1)
- Driving on a suspended license under California VC 14601
- DUI without injury under California VC 23152(a) and (b)
- Violation of a restraining order under California PC 273.6
The prosecutor has the discretion to charge certain offenses as misdemeanors or felonies. These offenses are known as wobbler offenses. When the prosecutor is planning to charge a crime as a misdemeanor or felony, they may consider your criminal history and facts. Some of the common wobbler offenses under California law include:
- PC 368 - Elder abuse
- PC 417 - Brandishing a weapon
- PC 245(a)(i) - Assault with a deadly weapon
What to Expect After a Misdemeanor Arrest
A misdemeanor offense under California law may progress through various stages. The stages include:
- Bail Hearing
- Pretrial hearing
- Jury/bench trial
An arrest is the first stage in the misdemeanor process. This stage involves being placed into custody by the police. The police must have a probable cause for them to categorize your case as a misdemeanor offense. You should contact your attorney immediately after an arrest. Contacting an attorney early gives him or her ample time to prepare a misdemeanor defense for your case.
In a criminal misdemeanor case, the arraignment is usually the first court hearing. During the arraignment process, the defendant enters a plea. The plea may be either guilty, not guilty, or no contest. At the arraignment stage, the judge decides on the issue of bail and release. At the arraignment stage:
- The court will advise or inform you about your constitutional rights
- You’ll learn about all the charges that the prosecutor has placed against you
- You’ll get an opportunity to enter a plea
- The court will decide regarding your bail
The arraignment process can only take place once the prosecutor has filed formal charges against you. An arraignment should occur within 47 hours after being placed in custody, irrespective of whether you have committed a misdemeanor or a felony offense.
However, in most misdemeanor cases, defendants are not placed in custody but are released immediately after an arrest. If this is the case, the arraignment process will take place within ten days from your arrest date. For a misdemeanor offense, you don’t have to attend the arraignment in person. Instead, you can have your attorney attend the arraignment on your behalf. However, the court may require your presence at the arraignment hearing if you commit certain offenses. The offenses include:
- Domestic violence offenses
- Violation of a restraining order
- Aggravated misdemeanor like DUI
If you fail to show up at the arraignment hearing and the judge requires you in court, he or she may issue a California bench warrant. This warrant will give the law enforcement officers the authority to arrest you and take you to court. Failing to appear in court for a misdemeanor offense may trigger additional misdemeanor charges.
A bail hearing refers to a court stage where the judge decides whether to retain the defendant in custody or release him or her on bail. After a bail hearing, the judge may take several actions:
- The judge may decide to release the defendant on his or her own recognizance.
- The judge may also allow the defendant to post bail in exchange for release from custody.
- The court may impose other conditions of release from custody other than posting bail.
- If the court establishes that the defendant may pose a risk to the community after release, the court may deny bail.
- However, in most misdemeanor cases, bail does not apply. This is because the majority of misdemeanor offenses are not placed in custody after an arrest. Most offenders are released from custody immediately after an arrest to appear in court at a later date.
The pretrial process sets in when the defendant pleads not guilty. Your defense attorney will play a significant role in your case during the pretrial process. This stage involves making court appearances. Your attorney may also file a motion to suppress the evidence presented against you or a motion to set aside the complaint.
During the pretrial process, your criminal defense attorney and the prosecution exchanges all the relevant information, including witness information and evidence. Additional negotiations and plea bargains may take place before the case proceeds to trial.
Most misdemeanor offenses get resolved at the pretrial stage. Therefore, it's important to have a competent attorney representing you and to ensure that your attorney makes the most out of this stage. An experienced attorney understands how to use the pretrial conferences for a defendant's advantage.
Your attorney may file a motion to suppress evidence for various reasons:
- If the attorney has an honest belief that the evidence against you was obtained through illegal means primarily through an illegal search
- Your attorney may file the motion to get an opportunity to question the prosecutor. During the questioning, your attorney may be able to reveal weaknesses in the prosecutor's case. An attorney may also be able to elicit a statement or testimony that he can later use to impeach a jury during a court trial.
If this motion succeeds, the judge will suppress illegally-obtained evidence from your case. Suppression of the evidence will lead to the weakening of the prosecutor's evidence against you. If the prosecutor feels that he or she has a weak case against you, they may be willing to withdraw the case or offer a plea bargain.
Bench or Jury Trial
If the misdemeanor case does not resolve at the pretrial stage, the case will proceed to trial. Most standard misdemeanors do not proceed to trial. Attorneys and prosecutors resolve most standard misdemeanor offenses at the pretrial phase. However, aggravated misdemeanor offenses may end up proceeding to trial.
You may file an appeal with your criminal defense attorney's help if you feel that the judges gave a bad ruling or that the prosecutor acted unethically. As long as you think that the jury returned the wrong verdict and you're not comfortable with the ruling, you can file an appeal.
Misdemeanor Probation Instead of Jail Time
In most cases, courts recommend misdemeanor probations instead of jail time for misdemeanor offenses in California. The alternative name for misdemeanor probation is informal or summary probation. Usually, misdemeanor probation may last between one and three years, depending on the court's recommendation.
Probation is better sentencing than jail time. However, you have to adhere to certain conditions of probation to avoid revocation of the probation. If you fail to adhere to probation conditions, the court may revoke the probation and recommend jail time. Some of the conditions of probations that the court may impose are:
- House arrest or electronic monitoring
- Community service
- Participation in drug treatment programs or counseling
- Paying restitution to the victim
You can improve your chances of getting probation instead of jail time by having a competent attorney to represent you.
Misdemeanor Offenses and Criminal Records
Can a misdemeanor offense lead to a criminal record? Yes, a misdemeanor offense could lead to a criminal record. The criminal record will occur under three circumstances:
- If you plead guilty to the offense
- Of you plead no contest to the prosecutor’s charges
- If your misdemeanor offense proceeds to trial and the court finds you guilty
You can evade a criminal record if you participate and complete the PC 1000 Drug Diversion program or the Prop 36 drug diversion program. The judge may dismiss your charges after completion of the drug diversion program. If the judge dismisses your charges, there will be no criminal conviction. Otherwise, a misdemeanor conviction will stay on your criminal record until you apply for an expungement of your record’s offense.
Misdemeanor Convictions and Deportation
Most misdemeanor convictions in California don’t lead to deportation. However, a misdemeanor conviction may lead to deportation if the offense involves firearms, domestic violence, and drugs. According to U.S. law, you may be subject to deportation if, within five years of your admission into the U.S., you commit a crime involving moral turpitude. The conviction for the offense involves a jail sentence of one year or more.
From January 1, 2015, the maximum jail time for California misdemeanor offenses is 364 years. This period is less than one year. Therefore, a misdemeanor conviction is California can’t subject you to deportation even if the offense involves moral turpitude.
Expungement of a Misdemeanor Conviction from Your Criminal Record
California law allows expungement of most misdemeanor offenses from your criminal record. However, some crimes, especially sex crimes committed against a child, can't be expunged from your criminal record. For you to be eligible for expungement of your criminal conviction under California law, you must have completed your probation successfully. When applying for an expungement, you must not have committed probation of serving probation for another criminal offense.
An expungement releases the defendant from all the disabilities and penalties arising out of a criminal conviction. After the expungement of a misdemeanor conviction, you don't have to disclose the conviction to potential employers. Even if an employer makes a conditional offer of employment, you don’t have to disclose the criminal conviction. You can confidently state that you’ve never been convicted of a criminal offense in California. Potential employers and landlords will have no basis for discriminating against you based on your past criminal record.
You can’t be eligible for an expungement of a criminal conviction in California if:
- You are charged with a criminal offense.
- You are currently on probation after committing a criminal offense.
- You are currently serving a sentence for a criminal offense in California.
Besides having completed probation successfully and honored all the probation conditions, you must also have attended all the needed court appearances. You may have honored the court appearances through an attorney or in person. It should be evident that while on probation, you didn’t commit any new offenses.
If you fail to apply for an expungement of a misdemeanor conviction from your record, the conviction remains on your record for life. If you don’t seek an expungement, the offense shows up on your background checks. This may deter potential employers from offering you employment. A criminal defense attorney can help you apply for the expungement of the criminal record.
Find a Misdemeanor Defense Attorney Near Me
A misdemeanor offense is a lesser offense than a felony under California law. If accused of a misdemeanor crime, you may underestimate the crime and the importance of hiring an attorney. However, misdemeanor convictions could have adverse effects on your criminal history. It’s advisable to seek the assistance of an attorney even for a seemingly minor offense. The Law Offices of Fountain & Hattersley provides the best misdemeanor defense in Pasadena, CA. Contact us at 626-793-4111 and speak to one of our attorneys.