What Is the Maximum Sentence?
California recognizes three categories of criminal offenses: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies.
Infractions are the least serious and aren't considered true criminal convictions. Many infractions are simple traffic citations and are punishable by nothing more than a fine.
Misdemeanors are more serious than infractions and considered criminal convictions. Misdemeanors are punishable by jail time, a fine, probation, community service or a combination of these penalties. Examples of common misdemeanors include DUIs, petty theft, domestic battery, and violation of a restraining order. Some criminal offenses are considered “wobblers” in California and can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies. Wobbler offenses are sentencing according to how they are charged (i.e. as a misdemeanor or a felony).
Felonies are the most serious of criminal charges and are punishable by a prison sentence, but the court may sentence a defendant to the county jail or probation or a combination of the both instead.
Misdemeanors are defined as offenses for which the defendant may be sentenced to probation, a fine, a county jail sentence, or some combination of all three. Though less serious than felony offenses, misdemeanors in California are punishable by up to 364 days in a county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Previously, misdemeanors were punishable by to 365 days in a county jail, but that maximum sentence was recently changed. Due to this change, misdemeanors formally considered deportable crimes no longer result in deportation because deportable crimes must carry a potential sentence of one year or more in jail.
Even still, 364 days in jail can seem like a harsh sentence for someone facing his or her first misdemeanor conviction. These are maximum sentences, however, and many defendants get much shorter sentences, especially if it is their first offense. Working with an attorney can give you a better chance of receiving a minimum sentence.
Misdemeanors as a class of offenses do not require jail time, and many defendants convicted of misdemeanors don't serve any time in jail. When sentencing a defendant for a misdemeanor conviction, the judge typically has some level of discretion. That being said; California law does impose mandatory jail sentences for certain misdemeanor offenses. Your specific sentence will depend on a number of factors including your offense and how it was charged, the statute that applies to your sentencing, the nature and severity of the offense, any aggravating or mitigating circumstances, and your past criminal history. If you are facing criminal charges, the best way to know what kind of sentence you could face is to speak with an attorney. In addition to the above factors, the individual judge may have sentencing tendencies that a local attorney in your area might be able to anticipate. For example, certain judges could tend to impose harsh sentences, while others might be more lenient. In general, however, the factors listed above will have the most influence over your sentence, so discuss them with an attorney.
As stated above, some defendants do not receive a jail sentence at all and rather are punished by probation. Just because you are facing misdemeanor charges, doesn't mean you will go to jail. There are many alternatives to jail time, including work release, community service, work with Cal Trans or even home detention, also known as electronic home monitoring. Some of these alternatives come at a cost to you, and you may face other restrictions such as not being able to leave the state or country, or having to stay within a certain distance from your place of work or home.
You stand a better chance of getting a jail alternative if this is your first offense and if you do not pose a threat to the community. With California's jails and prisons facing extreme overcrowding, the state is under pressure to provide more alternatives to incarceration.
If you are facing misdemeanor charges, speak with an experienced California criminal defense attorney. Even for seemingly minor misdemeanor offenses, you could face up to a year of incarceration. To avoid such a consequences, you should speak with an attorney about developing a strategic defense to your charges. An attorney can also try to get you a reduced jail sentence or a jail alternative.
Are you facing criminal charges and concerned about jail? California attorney Christopher Martens knows California criminal defense and will help you fight for your rights. With over ten years of criminal defense experience, Mr. Martens has handled thousands of cases and has helped many Californians fight their charges. Serving the Visalia and Fresno areas, The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can provide expert criminal defense counsel. Call our office at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.