Definition of Misdemeanor Charges in California

Like most people accused of a crime or under investigation by police, you may be unsure of the potential consequences of your charges, what legal options are available to you, and how the criminal process works. Below are the most common questions I get about misdemeanor charges, and what you need to know about them.

What are the consequences of conviction?

At my law firm, I routinely fields calls from prospective clients who have previously pleaded guilty to misdemeanor offenses because of their mistaken belief that it was “only a misdemeanor.” Many of these callers simply pled guilty with their public defender, perhaps because they avoided jail time or received a reduced sentence. By the time I receive such calls, my clients have gotten a rude awakening as to the long-term impact of their decision, including the fact that you may be:

  • Disqualified from admission to a professional school: Some professional schools like graduate school or law schools require disclosure of any criminal conviction (even misdemeanors), which may disqualify you from admission.
  • Denied an occupational license: Many careers require a criminal background check as part of their licensing procedure. A misdemeanor conviction can close the door on many occupations, depending on the nature, timing and circumstances of the conviction, such as teaching, insurance sales/broker, legal profession, real estate sales/broker, occupations involving finance or investment, auto sales and dozens of others.
  • Disqualified for a great job opportunity: A growing number of employers routinely conduct background investigations before hiring employees, and a criminal conviction can cost you a job you would have otherwise secured. If you attempt to hide the conviction, it may well be discovered later, given that such convictions are a matter of public record, and you may subsequently be fired even if you initially got the job.
  • Ineligible for certain financial aid: I often receive calls from good people who have made minor mistakes and are now having significant difficulty rebuilding their lives after a misdemeanor conviction from years ago. Higher education can be vital to the rebuilding process. Unfortunately, access to certain financial aid may be denied based on a misdemeanor conviction.
  • Denied immigration benefits: Some misdemeanors can form the basis for removal from the United States or denial of residency and other immigration benefits. For example, Canadian Customs and Immigration Officers routinely deny entry to U.S. citizens who have certain misdemeanor convictions on their records.
  • Turned down for housing: Once you find a home you’d like to rent, you may find that the landlord turns you down even if you have impeccable credit because of a misdemeanor conviction. San Diego landlords frequently conduct criminal background checks and turn down applications of those convicted of drug offenses and other misdemeanors.

These long-term effects are on top of the immediate punishment associated with misdemeanor sentencing, including county jail not to exceed 1 year, fines of up to $2,000, probation, community service, Cal-Trans (physical labor), restitution, counseling and suspension of driving privileges (for some drug and alcohol offenses). The above is only a brief list of the ways simply “pleading out” to a misdemeanor may not be in your long-term best interest.

When does it make sense to take a plea deal?

I developed my criminal litigation skills and comprehensive knowledge of district attorney tactics while working as a prosecutor with a high conviction rate, most recently in San Diego’s neighboring Imperial County. I’ve handled thousands of cases from minor misdemeanors to serious felonies on both sides of the aisle as a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney throughout San Diego, Imperial, Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

I know that all of the above consequences and available options must be carefully weighed when determining whether to enter a plea arrangement or proceed to trial. Because of this, I handle plea negotiations with the same tenacity as a criminal trial to ensure the best possible plea agreement. My approach to plea bargain discussions has permitted me to obtain a wide range of positive results for my clients, including:

  • Avoiding a misdemeanor conviction by obtaining diversion or reduction of charges to an infraction (non-criminal offense)
  • Obtaining a sentence that provides for community service, work furlough or home incarceration rather than jail time
  • Persuading the prosecutor to accept a plea to a lower-level misdemeanor that has limited collateral consequences

To see some examples of the results I’ve been able to secure, visit my Testimonials section.

Can I get a misdemeanor expunged from my record?

Even if you plead guilty to a misdemeanor, I may be able to get the misdemeanor conviction expunged (dismissed) from your criminal record once you have completed the terms of your probation and a minimum probationary period has elapsed. This can be very important because it can prevent many of the long-term negative consequences listed above. To learn more, visit my section on Record Expungement.

I also fight to have misdemeanors reduced to infractions. This may also help you avoid more severe sentencing if you face future criminal charges.

The impact of a misdemeanor conviction in a San Diego County criminal court can greatly impede your future. If you’re arrested for a misdemeanor, assert your right to remain silent and to have an attorney present before you speak with the police. If you have any questions, I invite you to schedule a free case evaluation where we’ll go over the specifics of you case and discuss your legal options.