General Information

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     A misdemeanor is a criminal charge that can carry a maximum sentence of up to one year in the county jail and/or a fine of several thousand dollars.  There are some misdemeanors that carry the possible penalty of deportation and denial of citizenship.  Other misdemeanors carry the penalty of registration as a sex offender or a drug offender.    


     The first appearance in court is called the arraignment.  The arraignment has four main purposes.  The first is to formally advise you, the accused, of the charges that have been filed against you by the District Attorney's Office.  These charges are set forth in a document called the "complaint."  The complaint will normally include the name of the accused, the case number, the Penal Code section(s) allegedly violated, and the date of the alleged offense.

     The second purpose of the arraignment is to advise you of your right to have an attorney represent you during all stages of the criminal proceedings.  The court must advise you of this fundamental right, and must further advise you that if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer one will be appointed to represent you.  In most courts, an attorney from the Public Defender's Office will be present and will briefly discuss with you your right to counsel before your case is called by the judge.  If an attorney is appointed you will be asked to fill out a financial statement, and the court will reserve the issue of whether you can afford to pay for the services of your appointed counsel.  Unless there is a conflict of interest, your appointed attorney will be someone from the Public Defender's Office.

     The third purpose of the arraignment is to enter a plea.  You have the choice of pleading not guilty, guilty, or no contest.  A plea of "no contest" has the same force and effect as a plea of guilty.  However, a no contest plea prevents your plea from being used against you as evidence of civil liability in most civil actions that arise from the same incident.

     The fourth purpose of an arraignment is to determine whether or not bail will be required and if so, what amount would be appropriate.  As a general rule, if you have posted bail prior to your arraignment, or if you were cited out from the jail, you will be allowed to remain out of custody without an increase in bail. 


     Entering a "not guilty" plea at arraignment will result in your case being set for a jury trial, and a pretrial hearing called a "jury motion."  If you are in jail you have the right to have your trial within thirty (30) days of your arraignment.  If you are not in custody you have a right to have your trial within forty-five (45) days of your arraignment.  In either instance, you can give up your right to a speedy trial and set your trial date beyond these time limits.

     Once you have been appointed the Public Defender and entered a plea of  not guilty, it will be important for you, if you are out of custody, to contact the Public Defender's Office and schedule an appointment for an interview.  This initial interview is generally conducted by an experienced legal assistant working with your assigned attorney.  Be sure to bring to your interview all documents, photographs, names, addresses and telephone numbers of witnesses, and any other paperwork that is relevant to your case.  If you are in custody your attorney will visit you at the jail for an interview.

     At your jury motion you will be making a decision to either settle your case or proceed to trial.  The prosecution will usually make an offer which will be conveyed to you by your attorney.  If the offer is rejected your case will be confirmed for trial.

     If you enter a plea of guilty or no contest you will usually be sentenced immediately.  As a general rule, you will have to complete and sign a "Change of Plea and Waiver of Rights" form prior to entering your plea.  Be sure you carefully read and understand this form.


     Practically all sentences for misdemeanors include formal or informal probation, a fine, community service, time on a work program, or in some instances, time in custody.  Convictions for some offenses will affect your driving privileges or immigration status and some convictions have long-term registration requirements.  Be sure to listen carefully and ask questions about how a plea of guilty or no contest will affect you.