In California, a misdemeanor is any criminal offense that is punishable by less than one year in county jail. A misdemeanor is less serious than a felony but still carries potentially harmful consequences. If convicted of a misdemeanor, you could face:
- Up to six months in jail for a standard misdemeanor, and up to one year in jail for a gross misdemeanor
- Up to $1000 fine for a standard misdemeanor (the fine may be even more for a gross misdemeanor)
In addition to these criminal penalties, you may end up with a criminal record that will follow you around for the rest of your life. A criminal record can hold you back from getting a job, getting accepted into a university or even from getting approved for housing.
What are some common misdemeanors?
Some crimes that are commonly charged as misdemeanors include:
- Drug possession
- Drunk driving
- Disorderly conduct
- Drinking in public
- Petty theft, including shoplifting
Bear in mind that the level of the offense depends upon the severity of the crime. For instance, possession of a small amount of an illegal drug may be charged as a misdemeanor, but possession of a larger amount of that same controlled substance is a felony.
What are “wobbler” crimes?
California has a special class of criminal offenses called “wobbler crimes.” These offenses can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, upon the discretion of the prosecutor. Judges may also make the determination, based on the specific factors of the alleged offense.
What should I do if charged with a misdemeanor?
First of all, don’t panic. Your situation could be much worse than it is, but it is important to make the right decisions going forward. Remember not to say anything to police investigators without having an attorney by your side. Also, do not plead guilty without first consulting with a criminal law attorney. Even if the evidence against you seems strong, you could be making a serious mistake by giving up without a fight.