top of page
  • Writer's pictureBlair Goss

What Is a Class A Misdemeanor in California? All You Need to Know

Misdemeanor charges need to be taken very seriously because of the huge impact they can have on a defendant's criminal history and quality of life years after they have served their punishments.

This is why even a relatively small criminal offense, such as petty theft, requires the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer to avoid jail time and other undesirable consequences.

In California, each misdemeanor crime is categorized based on its severity into three distinct classes. This is why when defendants are facing criminal charges, they will usually be defending themselves against either Class A misdemeanors, Class B misdemeanors, or Class C misdemeanors charges.

While any misdemeanor offense should not be taken lightly, of these three classes, Class A misdemeanors are the most serious. Offenses such as these can easily result in the offender being slapped with the most severe penalties for California misdemeanors.

If facing Class A misdemeanor charges, offenders can visit the Goss Law office in Sacramento and ask for a free consultation with one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the State. They can also answer questions such as how long does a misdemeanor warrant last in california?

What Are Misdemeanor Crimes in California?

What Are Misdemeanor Crimes in California?

Misdemeanor crimes in California are usually criminal offenses that are punishable by up to 364 days in jail. They are usually considered less serious than felony charges but have more severe consequences than infractions.

Having offenders being charged with a misdemeanor in California has been part of the legal system for many years now. Although its exact concept has evolved a lot over the years, it has always been used to penalize criminal charges that relate to relatively minor offenses compared to felonies.

With the introduction of the California Penal Code in 1872, the types of crimes that qualify as misdemeanor offenses became a lot clearer. As society continued to evolve, misdemeanor convictions were adjusted to suit each type of crime in California more accurately.

In 2014, Proposition 47 was passed in California to reclassify certain nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors. Previously, these misdemeanor crimes were classified as felonies and carried much stiffer sentences.

With all the amendments being made to further classify a crime as either a misdemeanor, infraction, or felony, the prison populations in California's over-burdened correctional services can be better managed. This allows more focus to be placed on rehabilitation rather than simply punishing offenders.

In reality, the intricacies of the laws that differentiate California misdemeanor crimes from felony offenses are quite complex. It takes a good criminal defense lawyer to help offenders fight for their rights when they find themselves in such circumstances. They can also go into detail on what a serious misdemeanor in california is.

Three Classes of Misdemeanor Offenses

A misdemeanor crime in California is usually placed into one of three classes based on several factors. The following are those three classes of misdemeanor offenses:

Class A Misdemeanor

A Class A misdemeanor charge is the most serious charge that a person can face without being accused of a felony. The punishment for such a misdemeanor crime is, therefore, quite harsh compared to the other types of misdemeanor offenses.

There are a wide range of serious misdemeanors that fall into this category, such as:

  • Certain trespassing crimes

  • Some serious traffic violations, such as leaving the scene of an accident or reckless driving

  • Petty theft

  • Many drug-related crimes

  • Domestic violence-related offenses

  • Petty larceny

  • Some driving under the influence and DUI-related offenses

  • Simple assault and battery crimes

The most important thing to know about a Class A misdemeanor offense is that it is just one small step from being a felony charge. This means, based on the prosecutor's discretion and strength of evidence supporting the misdemeanor charges, the offender can easily find themselves facing criminal charges that can result in a lot more jail time than they thought.

In cases where particularly aggravating circumstances exist, such as assault with a dangerous weapon, it is important to have a good criminal defense lawyer fighting to prevent such cases from being upgraded to felony charges.

Class B Misdemeanor

Compared to Class A misdemeanors, a Class B misdemeanor is a lot less serious. While still punishable by jail time and fines, Class B misdemeanor convictions do not often result in lengthy incarceration unless the case is complicated by the defendant's criminal history.

However, if the Class B misdemeanor involves harm to a person rather than property, the punishment may also include restitution being paid to the victims. The offenders can also be ordered to attend rehabilitation programs as part of their probation.

Below are some of the most common Class B misdemeanor crimes in California:

  • Prostitution

  • Criminal speeding over 30 mph

  • Possession of drugs

  • Harassment

Class C Misdemeanor

Class C misdemeanors are the least serious misdemeanor charges an offender can face under California law. In many cases, the offender will not be required to serve any jail time, and if they do, the maximum sentence is less than 30 days.

If a fine is levied for a Class C misdemeanor charge, it will usually be less than $500. The following are some examples of a Class C misdemeanor in California:

  • Traffic violations, such as failing to obey traffic signs, illegally changing lanes, or speeding

  • Disorderly conduct

  • Petty crimes, such as possession of tobacco or alcohol by a minor

  • Public intoxication

  • Minor property theft crimes

Some of the criminal offenses that are classified as Class C misdemeanors also fall under the other misdemeanor conviction classes. A good example is traffic offenses that are classified as either Class A or Class C.

California criminal law determines which class is best suited for each case based on the severity of the offense and other factors. While speeding 10 mph over the speed limit, for example, may result in a Class C misdemeanor charge, going 30 mph over the speed limit may be regarded as a Class B misdemeanor offense.

Standard Misdemeanor vs. Aggravated Misdemeanor

If, for example, an offender is charged with a misdemeanor without any other aggravating or mitigating factors involved in the offense, it will be regarded as a standard misdemeanor and be penalized accordingly.

However, certain misdemeanors in California become a lot more serious due to certain circumstances of the offense.

An example is a domestic violence misdemeanor offense in which a dangerous weapon was used or a minor was involved. Such cases will be classified as aggravated misdemeanors. In California, misdemeanor crimes with aggravating or mitigating factors carry a stiffer penalty than standard misdemeanors.

Instead of simply paying a fine, an offender charged with an aggravated misdemeanor can face up to the maximum sentence of 364 days in jail. Some common misdemeanors that can be regarded as aggravated are driving under the influence (DUI), violation of a restraining order, and domestic battery.

Since it is not always easy to differentiate between different levels of offense for each misdemeanor charge, it has given rise to wobbler offenses. These are crimes that can easily be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Some common misdemeanors that can also be tried as felonies in California include:

  • Second-degree burglary

  • Sexual battery

  • Assault with a deadly weapon

  • Criminal threats

  • Brandishing a weapon

  • Elder abuse

  • Grand theft

  • Corporal injury to a spouse

  • Embezzlement

Punishments for Class A Misdemeanors - From Fines to County Jail Time

In California, when found guilty of either a misdemeanor or felony, there is usually some form of punishment meted out to the offender. A Class A misdemeanor criminal offense carries the following punishments:

  • Up to 364 days in county jail but not less than six months incarceration

  • A fine of up to $1,000

  • Community service

  • Probation for a misdemeanor

  • Restitutions paid to victims

  • Rehabilitation and mandatory counseling

However, it is important to note that with an experienced misdemeanor lawyer in Sacramento defending them, offenders do not usually receive the maximum sentence for Class A misdemeanor convictions unless there are aggravating factors involved.

Consequences of Class A Misdemeanor Convictions

The consequences of a Class A misdemeanor conviction go beyond just serving jail time and paying fines.

Being found guilty of, for example, domestic violence using a dangerous weapon will result in the offender receiving a criminal record. This can become a serious problem for many people even years after they have served their sentences.

Offenders who are convicted of a Class A misdemeanor in California and have a criminal record often have to suffer the following long-term consequences:

Educational Consequences

Even the simple act of applying for and being admitted to a tertiary institute can become very complicated for anyone who has a criminal record. Many universities and colleges require full disclosure regarding the criminal history of their applicants.

Receiving financial aid and housing may also be difficult for anyone with a misdemeanor conviction. In cases where the student has to face a disciplinary hearing, the fact that they were once convicted of a misdemeanor can work against them and result in stiffer punishments.

Employment Consequences

Anyone who has ever applied for a job in America knows that most companies conduct a background check on their candidates. As such, a misdemeanor conviction can result in the offender losing a lot of potential employers due to a reckless driving incident or other aggravated misdemeanors that happened many years ago.

People with misdemeanor convictions or on a misdemeanor probation will also find it very difficult to work in industries that deal with minors, the elderly, or that require professional licenses. If they decide to become business owners, they will also face a lot of hurdles when trying to secure employment.

Lifestyle Consequences

There is no telling just how badly a misdemeanor conviction will affect the offender's life. In cases where the offender was convicted of a sensitive misdemeanor in California, they may face a difficult time finding a good place to live.

Housing in many areas that are close to schools, for example, may automatically disqualify anyone who has ever been convicted of a sexual crime against children.

Certain misdemeanors in California can cause problems for immigrants if they are convicted. They may face deportation if found guilty of moral turpitude. Domestic violence convictions can also result in the loss of the right to own a firearm.

How to Get a Class A Misdemeanor Conviction Expunged

Considering the severity of the consequences of having a misdemeanor conviction criminal record, offenders must try as hard as they can to get their records expunged so that they can move on with their lives.

However, the process of getting an expungement is not always easy without a good criminal defense lawyer on their side. It helps if the offender has completed their probation and is not currently being charged with a crime or under probation for a misdemeanor.

There are also certain diversion programs that those convicted for a misdemeanor can undertake to prevent the conviction from being added to their permanent criminal record. An example of a diversion program is to agree to go for mandatory counseling sessions as part of their rehabilitation.

Even then, an attorney often has to work tirelessly to ensure that their client's record is fully expunged so that they will not be flagged as convicts if potential employers run a basic background check.

If the expungement is successful, the law does not require offenders to disclose that they were once arrested and convicted for a misdemeanor in California. As such, it will open a lot more doors for them and allow them to re-integrate into society after serving their sentence and paying their fines.

Factors That Can Complicate Class A Misdemeanor Cases

The majority of Class A misdemeanor cases are simple enough for an experienced attorney to handle. However, some factors can complicate these cases and put the offender at risk of serving serious time behind bars.

California misdemeanor crimes can be complicated or aggravated by the following factors:

Criminal Record

If an offender already has a criminal record for other California misdemeanors, it will be very difficult for their lawyer to argue for leniency if found guilty. In many cases, the court may take an existing criminal record as a sign that previous rehabilitation efforts were not effective, meaning the offender may need to be given a more severe punishment.

Repeat Offenders

The criminal justice system in America takes repeat offenders very seriously regardless of the crimes they are being charged with. Repeat offenders will likely be slapped with the maximum jail sentence possible for their crime because they are deemed to be unwilling to rehabilitate.

In such cases, an offense that should have only resulted in, for example, a misdemeanor probation, can easily lead to jail time simply because the defendant's criminal history shows that they are a repeat offender.

Other Circumstances

Many other factors can result in offenders receiving the maximum penalty for their misdemeanor conviction.

If, for example, a misdemeanor case was for simple assault but the prosecutor showed that a minor was present, the case would suddenly become a lot more serious. Such circumstances will often require a good lawyer to fight for their client and try to get the case dismissed or at least allow the offender to plead guilty to a lesser crime.

A Class A Misdemeanor Can Become a Felony

As shown above, it is easy for a simple misdemeanor charge to be upgraded into something more serious. In the case of a Class A misdemeanor, the only thing more serious than that is a felony charge.

Felony crimes often carry very stiff penalties depending on the specific circumstances and the exact California Penal Code that is being applied. As such, it is important to do all that is possible to be charged with a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

Rather than spending up to six months or a year in county jail for a Class A misdemeanor conviction, offenders can end up spending many years in state prison. That is why having a good criminal defense lawyer on their side as soon as possible is the right decision even when facing seemingly minor misdemeanor charges.

How to Fight a Class A Misdemeanor Charge in California

How to Fight a Class A Misdemeanor Charge in California

Fighting a misdemeanor charge in California starts from the moment the offender is arrested. They must remain calm and silent on their way to county jail so that nothing they say can be used against them in court.

If it is possible, offenders should try and get as much information and evidence from the arrest scene as possible. This will help their lawyers piece together what happened and launch a strong defense on their behalf.

Above all, offenders need to have the best attorney they can find on their side when facing a California misdemeanor charge. This will greatly improve their chances of walking away from a misdemeanor conviction without having to spend any time in county jail.

Goss Law Is Ready to Take the Case

California law is often very complicated, especially when it comes to dealing with cases of misdemeanor crimes and felonies. If they are not careful, offenders can easily find themselves serving time in state prison for a crime they thought was minor.

However, with a top-rated law firm such as Goss Law on their side, anyone arrested for misdemeanor crimes in California can rest assured that their case is in good hands. With many years of experience dealing with similar cases, Goss Law has what it takes to win any California misdemeanor case it handles.


bottom of page