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Understanding California Misdemeanor Charges

A misdemeanor charge in California is a serious matter that can have just as serious consequences if a conviction follows. It can upend your life, so fighting the charge is often your best option. Of course, many factors should be considered if, when, and how a misdemeanor is fought.

At the Law Office of Eugene Kilbride, our criminal defense lawyer in Central Valley, CA will review any misdemeanors charged in your case, explain what those charges mean, and advise you on your best legal options. Contact us at (209) 719-1401 today to schedule a Free Consultation and get the best representation you need in your unique circumstances.

What Constitutes a Misdemeanor in California?

Misdemeanors are criminal offenses that are more serious than infractions but less severe than felonies. These cases are typically held in the lower courts, and convictions can sometimes be appealed to higher level courts.

Most states classify misdemeanors to distinguish their degree of severity or importance. These classifications are usually set up using a letter or number to identify the level of severity of the misdemeanor charge.

Class A or Class 1 Misdemeanors

Class A misdemeanors are the most severe offenses when not including felony offenses. In terms of misdemeanors, Class A convictions will result in harsher punishment, two of which include:

  1. Incarceration between six to twelve months in a local jail; and
  2. Fines, the amount of which depends on the jurisdiction but could be upwards of a couple of thousand dollars.

Crimes qualifying as Class A or Class 1 misdemeanors vary by state, but often they include:

  • Some trespassing crimes
  • Theft or petty larceny
  • Simple assault and battery crimes
  • Some domestic violence-related crimes
  • Many drunk driving and DUI-related crimes
  • Many drug and drug-related crimes
  • Some traffic offenses, like reckless driving or leaving the scene of an accident

Many Class A or Class 1 misdemeanors have the potential to become felonies if certain aggravating circumstances exist, like assaulting someone with a weapon or killing someone while drinking and driving.

Class B or Class 2 Misdemeanors

Class B or Class 2 misdemeanors are less severe than Class A but more severe than Class C misdemeanors. Punishment can result in:

  1. Incarceration of up to six months in a local jail; and/or
  2. Fines, the amount of which depends on the jurisdiction but could be upwards of a few hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars.

If a Class B or Class 2 misdemeanor involves a victim as opposed to a property crime, a sentence could also include an order to pay restitution. Likewise, in cases where chemical substances are involved, the court could also order the defendant to attend rehabilitation or another type of drug or alcohol court program.

Class B or Class 2 misdemeanors often include crimes like:

  • Prostitution
  • Harassment
  • Possession of drugs
  • Criminal speeding (usually 30 mph over the speed limit)

Class C or Class 3 Misdemeanors

Class C or Class 3 misdemeanors are the least serious of all misdemeanor offenses. Often a conviction of a Class C crime will result in no jail time. Fines are minimal and typically do not exceed five hundred dollars.

Class C or Class 3 misdemeanors vary according to jurisdiction but typically include:

  • Traffic violations, like speeding, illegally changing lanes, or failing to obey traffic signs
  • Petty crimes, like possession of alcohol or tobacco by a minor
  • Most property theft crimes on a minor scale
  • Public intoxication
  • Disorderly conduct

Keep in mind that any one of these different types of crimes – like traffic offenses, assault, property theft, drugs, and more – can qualify for any one of the above three classes. The category assigned to a criminal charge depends on the severity or extent of the alleged crime, facts, and circumstances.

For example, speeding 10 miles over the speed limit may only result in a warning or a Class C or Class 3 misdemeanor or traffic infraction. On the other hand, driving 30 miles over the speed limit can result in a Class B or Class 2 criminal misdemeanor charge.

Collateral Consequences of Misdemeanor Charges in California

The collateral consequences for misdemeanors are not as severe as those that follow convictions of felonies, but they should be considered.

Lifestyle-Based Collateral Consequences

A misdemeanor can impact your quality of life and impact your housing, transportation, and immigration situations.

  • Housing. In some jurisdictions, a misdemeanor can disqualify a person from affordable or subsidized housing programs.
  • Rentals. Some property owners and managers may choose not to rent a space to a person convicted of any or some misdemeanor offenses. If you currently rent, you and your family could be evicted if the misdemeanor is in violation of the contract or another rule, law, or agreement.
  • Driving. Some misdemeanors, like those specific to DUI offenses, can lead to the suspension of driving privileges.
  • Immigration. Some misdemeanors, like those specific to moral turpitude (e.g., Prostitution), can result in deportation or the denial of an immigration status adjustment.
  • Civil Rights. A domestic violence conviction, even if a misdemeanor, can result in the loss of your right to own or use a firearm.

Employment-Based Collateral Consequences

Some misdemeanors can have a deep impact on job opportunities or a career.

  • Public employment. You may have to provide the status of any misdemeanor convictions on an application, specifically when applying for positions for a public or government employer. This can include teaching positions to military positions. Lesser misdemeanors may not impact your eligibility, but Class 1 or Class A misdemeanors can affect public, government, or military employment.
  • Children and elderly. A misdemeanor can disqualify someone from working with vulnerable people, especially children and the elderly. Often it depends on the type of crime
  • Professional licenses. A misdemeanor can result in the loss or disqualification of a professional license, and this is true even when the crime is unrelated to the profession.
  • Associations. A person can be barred from certain memberships necessary for employment, like state bars, real estate associations, and medical boards.
  • Businesses. Business owners who are convicted of certain misdemeanors may be unable to obtain business loans, especially those from the Small Business Administration.

Education-Related Collateral Consequences

Misdemeanors may affect a person's ability to seek or continue their educational path.

  • Admissions. Some misdemeanor convictions may result in delays or denials of college applications.
  • Financial Aid. A college student or prospective student may be disqualified from financial aid if they have been convicted of drug charges, even misdemeanors of possession of controlled substances.
  • Housing. College students could be denied or removed from college housing for some misdemeanor charges, especially those related to assault or possession of chemical substances.
  • Discipline. When a current student commits a crime, especially if committed on campus, they may be disciplined by the school. Disciplinary action can result in additional penalties, like academic discipline, suspension, or expulsion.

Do You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer in California to Fight a Misdemeanor Charge?

The answer to this question is always a relative one, but if you seek to avoid any consequences of a misdemeanor conviction in California, then it is best to seek the representation of a qualified criminal defense lawyer. The following are a few reasons why you need a criminal defense lawyer.

  1. Your charges could be reduced from a felony or a Class A or 1 misdemeanor. If the facts support a lesser charge, your attorney can argue the same using their negotiation skills on your behalf.
  2. Your misdemeanor could become a felony. Felonies carry more serious consequences. Your attorney will want to show, in part, that the State does not have the legal requirements to charge the crime as a felony.
  3. You want your rights protected. You have certain constitutional rights when you are arrested and charged with a crime. Your attorney will ensure your rights are upheld, and if they have been violated, your attorney can take proper action that could lead to a dismissal of charges.
  4. You want less time in jail and/or reduced fines. Statistics show that those who fight misdemeanor charges tend to do less time in jail and pay less in fines. Often that is because the attorney has effectively represented their client.
  5. You prefer legal guidance. If you want the benefits that flow from a qualified criminal defense attorney, then seeking help from our law firm may be in your best interests.

At the Law Office of Eugene Kilbride, our criminal defense lawyer will help you in all of the above and more ways. The strategy we develop will be based on the law and persuasive argument as much as it will be based on the facts and any available defenses.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Central Valley, CA Today

If you have been charged with a misdemeanor in California, it is in your best interest to retain a smart criminal defense lawyer who can help you get the best outcome in your unique situation.

At the Law Office of Eugene Kilbride, our criminal defense team will defend your interests and uphold your rights as we represent your case. We take your defense seriously and use our resources effectively and efficiently. Contact us today by filling out our online form or calling us at (209) 719-1401 to schedule a Free Consultation.

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