Being accused of committing a crime in California is a scary, stressful experience. But so many of us -- hard working individuals -- do happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time or make a mistake that changes the course of our lives. Being accused of committing a misdemeanor is less serious than a felony, but if convicted, still means life-changing penalties and consequences.
William S. Kroger, criminal defense attorney located in L.A. County, is committed to his clients and wants to make sure their good names are protected. He understands the difficulties that a criminal record produces after a person has paid their debt to society by paying fines and/or spending time in jail. If you care about your freedom and your future, contact William S. Kroger today.
What is a California misdemeanor & how does a conviction affect you?
Crimes in California are classified as infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Misdemeanors are those crimes more serious than infractions, which result in fines only, and less serious than felonies, which can result in fines up to a $10,000 or more and incarceration for more than one year. Misdemeanors are those crimes that can result in fines not to exceed $1,000 (or $2,000 under certain circumstances) and incarceration up to one year in the county jail. Some misdemeanors carry other penalties, too, like driver's license suspension and community service.
But a conviction does not end when your debt to society has been paid. A conviction of a misdemeanor results in a criminal record and this criminal record will follow you through time and space unless you qualify for an expungement.
Ways a Criminal Record Impacts Your Life
There are many ways a criminal record will affect your life after a misdemeanor conviction. Here are some examples:
- Employment. A background check for a job application or security clearance for a job will return information on your arrest and conviction. An employer may deem you a liability or security risk and pass up your application.
- Professional Licenses. If you have a professional license, like a real estate license, teaching license, medical license, nursing license, pilot's license, or other professional licenses, a misdemeanor conviction mean suspension or revocation of that license. If you are applying for any of these licenses, then your application could be denied.
- Loans. If you need to apply for any kind of loan, especially something for higher education or mortgage, your loan could be denied if your criminal record materializes.
- Housing. If you rent and want to lease rental space in a safe community, there may be some difficulty renting. Some places only refuse to house to convicted felons, but there are those that may deny an application to anyone with a criminal history.
- Stigma. Generally speaking, an arrest and conviction is just plain embarrassing. It carries with a social stigma that may be hard to fend off. Keeping your name clean is the best option. So, contacting an experienced attorney to protect your rights and freedom may be your only option.
Ways to Prevent a Criminal Record from Impacting Your Life
There are ways to prevent a criminal record from impacting your life. For starters, you should fight the charge(s). Some people, especially if it is their first experience in the court system, get scared and want to plead guilty at the first possible chance because they think (1) they were arrested so there must be evidence to prove guilt, so why fight it; and (2) it is the faster way to get the whole process over and to get back to your life.
Both of these assumptions are false, and here's why:
- You can fight the charges. Each misdemeanor crime has its own elements that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before you can be found guilty. If one element is not proven, then chances are you will not be found guilty. It is the job of the attorney to weaken the State's case against you by either proving your innocence or inserting doubt into the prosecutor's case. It is almost always not in your best interests to plead guilty or nolo contendre unless the facts have been properly assessed, because, once you do, you lose your right to defend yourself and fight the charges.
- Often when people plead guilty at an early stage, they are given harsher sentences than if they had gone through the process. Going through the process allows your story to unfold in your benefit. The prosecutor, judge, and/or jury get to know you. So, even if you are found guilty in the end, your attorney is likely to argue a lighter sentence for you based on mitigating factors. Of course, with William S. Kroger, the intent is to win your case by either a dismissal or an acquittal, but that doesn't always happen because of the evidence and facts surrounding the case.
If you already have a misdemeanor conviction (or are convicted of one in the future), another way to prevent a criminal record from impacting your life is inquiring into expungement. Expungement is available in most cases where the defendant has successfully completed probation. It means that your records are sealed. Unless you are applying for a state license, to be a law enforcement officer or to sell lottery tickets, no one will be able to see the crime when a background check is conducted, and you can say on your applications that you have not been convicted of a crime.
But if you have more than one conviction, you should know that you will have to request expungement for each conviction -- it's not a clean swipe of the plate. Contact William S. Kroger. He has been very successful at obtaining expungements for satisfied clients who have had single or multiple convictions, including both misdemeanors and felonies.
What are common California misdemeanors?
Misdemeanors involve all sorts of alleged crimes. The below lists are just examples of what types of crimes are deemed misdemeanors. Keep in mind, though, that many crimes charged as felonies but qualify as wobblers can be reduced to misdemeanors if the circumstances surrounding the commission of the crime are not egregious enough to substantiate a felony. Oftentimes, the L.A. County prosecutor will charge a crime as a felony (if it is a qualifying wobbler) to use as bargaining power.
California Misdemeanor Crimes
Many misdemeanors are just that: misdemeanors. They typically cannot be reduced to a lower charge. Examples of misdemeanors that are not wobblers include:
- Possession of controlled substances for personal use
- Possession of controlled substances in small amounts for sale or transfer
- DUI up to the third offense if not involving an accident that caused serious bodily injury
- Evading an officer
California Misdemeanor / Wobbler Crimes
Misdemeanors that are wobbler can be charged as a felony if the circumstances demand it. If convicted of the wobbler crime and if it was charged as a misdemeanor, the sentence cannot involve incarceration for more than one year. If charged as a felony, the sentence can include incarceration up to 3 years in either the county jail or prison with limited exceptions. The following are examples of crimes that can be charged as a felony but reduced as a wobbler to a misdemeanor:
- Child endangerment
- Child abuse
- Domestic violence
- Criminal threats
- DUI when bodily injury has occurred.
What is the court process for a misdemeanor in L.A. County?
The court process for a misdemeanor crime in L.A. County is basically a 4-step process. There is the arrest, the arraignment, the pretrial proceedings, and the trial. Though this may sound simple enough, it's not. There are deadlines to be met. There are motions that need to be timely filed. There are strategizing and negotiations that need to take place. An experienced, resourceful criminal defense attorney will approach your case holistically, reviewing or uncovering each and every angle to ensure you get the best defense in your unique circumstances.
After you are read your rights and arrested, you are taken to jail. If you are given a date to appear in court, then:
- You could be released with no charges filed.
- You could post bail or be released on your own recognizance with arraignment scheduled.
- You could be held in custody of the law enforcement agency and brought to court for the arraignment.
What happens after the arrest all depends on the circumstances and the alleged criminal activity.
The arraignment is a hearing where you are officially informed of the charges brought against you and read your constitutional rights. During this hearing, you will also enter a plea. The plea must be one of three options: not guilty, guilty, or nolo contendere.
- If you plead not guilty, then the case will be set for a future date.
- If you plead guilty, then you admit commission of the crime and the matter is solved at the arraignment, i.e., if you will have to pay any fines/fees or attend any court-ordered program(s).
- If you plead nolo contendere, then you do not contest the charge, but the plea has the same effect as if you pleaded guilty.
Under California law, your attorney may appear at most misdemeanor hearings without you. It is in your best interests to have a defense attorney, like William S. Kroger, appear on your behalf or accompany you at the arraignment and further proceedings. For many of you, you may be scared or nervous if it is your first experience with the criminal court system. William S. Kroger will help relieve those fears and worries while representing you before the judge. It is always best to enter a plea of not guilty, anything else ruins your chances of fighting the charge. Even if you think the evidence is against you, remember: a charge is always defensible, it just depends on how good the attorney is and how well the defense is crafted and executed. Even if found guilty after fighting it, your sentence will likely be less harsh than if you plead guilty at the arraignment.
The Pre-Trial Proceedings
If you pleaded not guilty, the trial will be set. In the meantime, your attorney will guide you through the pre-trial proceedings. Here, there is usually an exchange of evidence between the prosecutor and the defense, known as the discovery phase. Your attorney will also use any number of motions strategically to have the case dismissed, the complaint set aside, the evidence suppressed, witnesses excluded, among other requests.
You always have the option, too, during this period to enter a plea of guilty or no-contest, if doing so is -- after all -- in your best interests. Oftentimes this is done in exchange for a deal with the State. Plea deals should always be entered into with caution because, in the end, you still end up with a criminal record that can have negative effects on the quality of your life.
If the case was not dismissed or if you did not accept a plea deal, then the case goes to trial. You usually have the option to have a bench trial, where a judge decides your case, or a jury trial, where a jury decides your case. William S. Kroger will discuss with you the advantages or risks associated with each. Typically, the benefits and risks are aligned with the specific circumstances of your case as well as the type of crime alleged against you.
How do you defend yourself against misdemeanor charges?
Your first line of defense against a misdemeanor charge is an attorney who can help you avoid a conviction.
There are a number of defenses, like denial or innocence, mistaken identity, self-defense, and other, that could work in your case so long as the facts support it. These defenses, however, are not successful unless the strategy putting forth the defense is successful. That's where an experienced California criminal defense attorney is important.
Strategy is case-specific and fact-intensive. As such, each strategy is unique. Generally speaking, however, there are some common strategies that can be employed, like:
- Filing motions that -- among other things -- challenge the legality of how the evidence was obtained, or the credibility of the witnesses, or the conduct of the police officers.
- Negotiating the charges with the prosecutor.
- Coaching you how to behave and perform in the courtroom.
- Weakening the State's case against you through effective counter cross-examination.
Contact a Resourceful, Smart L.A. County Criminal Defense Attorney Today
William S. Kroger Attorney at Law aims to help his clients avoid a conviction. This, however, is not possible in every case, but it is the first goal of a committed criminal defense attorney. If it appears a conviction may not be possible, William S. Kroger will shift his attention to mitigation to help you avoid jail time and other consequences that flow from a conviction.
William S. Kroger is a strategic defense attorney. He considers all aspects of the case and moves forward to pursue a dismissal or an acquittal, and when necessary, deferred prosecution or a plea deal. Whichever way the case goes, he discusses it with his clients. He believes making informed decisions about your case and future is important to the success of his legal representation.
For honest advice and smart criminal defense, contact William S. Kroger's office today at 323-655-5700.