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Misdemeanor Penalties

Penal Code 19 PC - Misdemeanor Penalties in California

California Penal Code 19 PC is the primary law that governs how misdemeanors are penalized. It provides a general guideline for sentencing, but the actual penalties can vary based on the nature of the crime, the defendant's criminal history, and other factors.

PC 19 specifies the sentencing for misdemeanor offenses. The standard sentencing is up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. Notably, a judge will almost never sentence a first-time offender to jail time, and most cases are settled without going to trial.

Misdemeanor Penalties in California - Penal Code 19 PC
PC 19 says the standard misdemeanor penalties are up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Penal Code 19 PC says, “Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.”

As stated, you could receive one or both of these penalties after a conviction, but there could be different penalties for a conviction based on the state's laws. In addition, you could face additional penalties in some instances, such as restitution and community service.

In other cases, you could get probation only rather than jail time and a fine. For example, suppose you are a first-time DUI offender. In that case, the judge will typically impose probation.  You would be required to complete DUI school, and your driving privileges would be impacted. 

Further, often, you would be eligible for a diversion program, such as first-time drug possession charges under California Health and Safety Code 11350 HS. After completion, the criminal charges would be dismissed and sealed. Let's review this law in more detail below.

What Does the Law Say?

California law categorizes law violations into infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Infractions are minor offenses that are not considered crimes.

Misdemeanors are the middle ground of these categories, with penalties typically more severe than infractions but less severe than felonies. However, misdemeanor convictions can result in jail time, fines, and a criminal record.

Penal Code 19 PC provides the default sentencing guideline for a "standard" misdemeanor in California, as opposed to a "gross" or "aggravated" misdemeanor.

What is the Definition of a Misdemeanor Crime?

A misdemeanor in California is a crime less severe than a felony but more severe than an infraction. California law categorizes misdemeanors into standard and gross misdemeanors (also known as "aggravated misdemeanors").

  • A standard misdemeanor is the most common and basic type of misdemeanor. Examples include petty theft, vandalism, public intoxication, trespassing, and minor drug possession offenses.
  • A gross misdemeanor is more serious than a standard misdemeanor and may carry higher penalties. Examples include domestic battery, DUI, and violating a restraining order.

What Are the Most Common Misdemeanor Crimes?

In California, the most commonly charged misdemeanor offenses include the following:

What Are Wobblers and Wobblettes?

Some offenses in California can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. These types of offenses are called "wobblers ."  Examples of wobbler offenses include the following:

If the crime is charged as a misdemeanor, the penalty guidelines for a gross misdemeanor will be in effect (up to 1 year in jail).

In some cases, certain misdemeanors may also be reduced to an infraction. These offenses are called "wobblettes." Examples of wobblettes include disturbing the peace, driving without a license, and criminal trespass.

The standard sentencing applies if a wobblette is charged as a misdemeanor; if charged as an infraction, there will be no jail time.

What Are the Alternative Sentencing Options for Misdemeanors?

In most cases, judges can impose lesser penalties for misdemeanor cases. These may occur either instead of jail time (or in exchange for reduced jail time) or, in some cases, in addition to the standard sentence.

Misdemeanor Probation in California
The judge could grant probation rather than jail.


Often, courts may grant probation instead of, or in addition to, jail time. Probation allows the offender to live in the community while complying with specific conditions, such as attending counseling, completing community service, or refraining from certain activities.

Failure to meet these conditions could result in further penalties. Probation issued for misdemeanor offenses is referred to as "summary" or "informal" probation.


In cases where the misdemeanor caused harm to a victim, the court might order the offender to pay restitution. This payment is intended to compensate the victim for any losses or damages incurred due to the crime. Restitution is not the same as a fine, and both fines and restitution may be imposed.

Long-Term Consequences

A misdemeanor conviction in California can have long-term implications that extend beyond immediate penal consequences. These can include difficulties in securing employment, housing, or professional licenses. Additionally, a conviction can affect one's immigration status and eligibility for certain public benefits.

The Role of Legal Representation in Misdemeanor Cases

Although misdemeanor offenses don't have the same penalties as felonies, there is still plenty of latitude when defending against the charges or negotiating lenient penalties.

Defenses for a Misdemeanor Crime in Los Angeles
Contact our law firm for legal guidance.

Hiring a skilled California criminal defense attorney is crucial to help you obtain the best possible outcome and potentially avoid the maximum penalties.

A skilled attorney can help navigate the complexities of the legal system, argue for reduced charges, and advocate for your rights throughout the process.

Early intervention into your case by our law firm could impact the outcome. In addition, due to our experience in criminal law, we are well-known by the local prosecutors and judges in all the Los Angeles County criminal courthouses.

Perhaps we can get your charges reduced or dismissed. Maybe we can negotiate with the prosecutor and law enforcement to avoid the formal filing of charges in the first place. You can contact our law firm by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.

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