What Is a Misdemeanor?

California divides criminal offenses into three categories based on the degree of seriousness–infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. A misdemeanor is a crime for which the maximum penalty is less than a year in jail. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, and they are more likely to be “victimless” crimes. 

The Two Types of Misdemeanors

California classifies misdemeanors as either:

  • Standard misdemeanors. The maximum penalty for a standard misdemeanor is six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
  • Aggravated misdemeanors. The maximum penalty for an aggravated misdemeanor (sometimes called a “gross” misdemeanor) is 364 days in jail and a fine of at least $1,000.

The judge won’t necessarily sentence you to the maximum penalty.

Examples of Standard Misdemeanors

California classifies the following criminal offenses as standard misdemeanors:

  • Public drunkenness;
  • Shoplifting;
  • Drug possession;
  • Indecent exposure;
  • Disorderly conduct; and
  • Prostitution.

Some of these offenses are not as straightforward as they may seem. Drug possession can be charged as a felony in sufficient quantities. Indecent exposure is a standard misdemeanor for the first offense only. A San Diego domestic violence charge may be considered a felony or misdemeanor depending on how far they are charged.

Examples of Aggravated Misdemeanors

California classifies the following offenses as “aggravated misdemeanors.”

This list represents only a small sample of the various offenses that California classifies as aggravated misdemeanors.


The term “wobbler” refers to an offense that the prosecutor can charge as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is particularly important if you face charges for a wobbler offense. You might be spared years in prison if the prosecutor chooses to charge you with a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Examples of wobblers include (but are not limited to):

The term “wobbler” can also refer to an offense that the prosecutor can charge as a misdemeanor or as an infraction. Some refer to this type of offense as a “wobblette.” In the case of a wobblette, a misdemeanor charge is the more serious option. 

Examples of “wobblettes” include trespassing and disturbing the peace. If the prosecutor has charged you with a wobbler or a wobblette, they will determine how to charge you based on the facts of your case and your previous criminal history.

What Is the Procedure for a Misdemeanor Case?

The procedure for a misdemeanor case runs something like this:

  • Arrest.
  • Arraignment. This is where the court formally charges you, and you plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, there will be no trial.
  • Bail hearing. The judge will determine the amount of your bail or release you “on your own recognizance.”
  • The pretrial discovery phase–the collection of evidence from the other side in the form of depositions, interrogatories, and the like.
  • Plea bargaining. If you accept a plea bargain, there will be no trial.
  • Pretrial motions, such as a motion to dismiss the case or a motion to suppress evidence.
  • Trial. You have the right to a jury trial. If you waive this right, the judge will decide your fate in what is referred to as a “bench trial.”
  • Appeal. Most defendants do not appeal the trial verdict, but some do.

This procedure is not set in stone—your case may differ in important ways.

Plea Bargaining

Statistically, the prosecution resolves most cases by plea bargaining. In a plea bargain, you agree to plead guilty to one or more of the charges against you or to a lesser charge. In exchange, the prosecutor agrees to certain concessions. The prosecutor might agree to recommend that the judge accept your guilty plea for a lesser charge. You are under no obligation to accept a plea bargain.

Misdemeanor Probation

Although California law authorizes jail for misdemeanors, you might get off with probation instead of jail time. Misdemeanor probation usually lasts for a year, even if the alternative sentence is less than one year in jail. Probation, however, always comes with conditions. Following are some examples of typical probation conditions:

  • Community service;
  • Electronic monitoring of your whereabouts, or house arrest,
  • Mandatory participation in counseling or treatment programs such as alcohol abuse treatment or anger management; 
  • Certain forbidden activities, such as drinking, associating with certain people, and refraining from breaking the law; and /or
  • Restitution to the victim.

 If you violate one of the conditions, you could go to jail.

Drug Offense Diversion Programs

Drug diversion programs are a way for drug offenders to complete their sentences without a criminal record. Two drug diversion programs that California offers are:

You need permission from the court to participate in a diversion program.


Expungement is a way of erasing your criminal record from the books. You must petition for an expungement, and a court will decide whether to accept your petition. Most California misdemeanors are eligible for expungement on certain conditions.

Contact a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney ASAP

A misdemeanor is not a traffic ticket, so don’t take such a charge lightly. Don’t neglect to hire a lawyer because a misdemeanor criminal record can close many doors of opportunity for you. 

Call a criminal defense attorney at Blair Defense Criminal Lawyers to answer all of your questions. Contact us immediately by telephone at (619) 357-4977 or contact us online