(619) 852-6985


What Occurs in a Misdemeanor Case?

Misdemeanors are primarily offenses with a maximum punishment of a $1,000 fine and a county jail term of 1 year or less. However, there are some offenses which can carry a higher maximum fine.

An arrest is made - police take the defendant to jail (or released on signed citation in the field). If the defendant is arrested and given a date to appear in court, three things can happen:

  1. The defendant is released - no charges are filed
  2. The defendant posts bail or is released on his own recognizance ("OR") and is scheduled for arraignment
  3. The defendant remains in custody of the Sheriff /law enforcement agency and is brought to Court for arraignment

Arraignment & Plea - defendant is brought to court

  1. Defendant is informed of the charges
  2. Defendant is informed of his/her constitutional rights
  3. An attorney is retained by the defendant. If the defendant wishes to have an attorney but cannot afford one of his/her choice, the Court may appoint one.
  4. Bail is set by the Court. Defendant is released on his/her "own recognizance", or remains in custody if unable to post bail.
  5. Defendant enters a plea - guilty, not guilty, or no contest
    · Not Guilty - The defendant states that he/she did not commit the crime.
    The case is set for a future hearing.
    · Guilty or No Contest plea is entered
    · Guilty - the defendant admits that he/she did commit the crime
    · No Contest- the defendant will not contest the charge.
    It has the same effect as a guilty plea except that the conviction
    cannot be used against the defendant in a civil suit.

If the defendant pleads Guilty or No Contest, the case is resolved at the time of arraignment. This will include any fines/fees and/or court-ordered programs imposed by the judge.

What Occurs at Trial?

  • Jury Trial

  • Jury is selected

  • Witnesses testify

  • Jury decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty

  • If not guilty, the defendant is released and cannot be tried again for the same crime.

  • If guilty:

    • Sentenced to Jail/Probation/other conditions

    • Appeal - The defendant can appeal to the Appellate Department of the Superior Court

  • Court Trial

  • Witnesses testify

  • Judge decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty

If defendant is found not guilty: the defendant is released and cannot be tried again for the same crime.

If defendant is found guilty:

  • Sentenced to Jail/Probation/other conditions

  • Appeal - The defendant can appeal to the Appellate Department of the Superior Court

Legal Definitions


A lesser crime punishable by a fine and/or county jail time for up to one year. Misdemeanors are distinguished from felonies which can be punished by state prison term. They are tried in the lowest local court such as municipal, police or justice courts. Typical misdemeanors include: petty theft, disturbing the peace, simple assault and battery, drunk driving without injury to others, drunkenness in public, various traffic violations, public nuisances, and some crimes which can be charged either as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the circumstances and the discretion of the District Attorney. "High crimes and misdemeanors" referred to in the U. S. Constitution are felonies


  1. A crime sufficiently serious to be punishable by death or a term in state or federal prison, as distinguished from a misdemeanor which is only punishable by confinement to county or local jail and/or a fine.
  2. A crime carrying a minimum term of one year or more in state prison, since a year or less can be served in county jail. However, a sentence upon conviction for a felony may sometimes be less than one year at the discretion of the judge and within limits set by statute. Felonies are sometimes referred to as "high crimes" as described in the U. S. Constitution.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt - The standard in a criminal case that must be met by the prosecution in order to convict the defendant. It means the evidence is fully satisfied, all the facts are proven, and guilt is established.

Due Process Clause – The constitutional provision that prohibits the government from unfairly or arbitrarily depriving a person of life, liberty or property.

Mens Rea - An element of criminal responsibility, mens rea is Latin for "guilty mind." Must be established to prove criminal liability.

Search and Seizure - The body of law that covers the issues of examining a person's property with the intention of finding evidence not in plain view (search) and taking possession of that property against the will of its owner or possessor (seizure).