Each state is governed by a unique set of laws and court opinions that compromises its criminal law. That means the definition and details for some criminal acts can vary from place to place. If you think you’ve violated the law and want to check if it counts as a criminal offense in California, it’s best to read the California Penal Code.

According to the Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann, APC, criminal charges like DUI and other offenses are serious. By knowing what actions are considered illegal in California, you’ll be able to protect yourself and avoid grave repercussions. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the three classifications of criminal charges in California and examples of unlawful acts.


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Infractions or petty offenses are minor violations against local ordinances, municipal codes, and administrative regulations. In California, these offenses are not considered a crime which means they are not punishable by jail time or incarceration.

Some examples of infractions in California include traffic violations like speeding, driving without wearing a seatbelt, passing a double yellow line, failure to stop for a school bus, and making a U-turn when it’s unsafe. Mildly indecent behavior such as littering, disturbing the peace, and failing to keep your dog on a lease is also another example of infractions.

Those who are found guilty of these petty offenses will have to pay a maximum fine of $250. Depending on the violation, the law may also require you to complete community service. For minor traffic violations, you may also receive points on your driving record.

Even though infractions are the least serious criminal offense in California, you have the chance to appear in front of a judge and present your case. However, you won’t be entitled to a trial by jury or court-appointed counsel. If you don’t pay the fine or fail to appear in court on the appointed date, your case may change into a misdemeanor.


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Misdemeanors are more serious than infractions but less severe than felonies. If you face a misdemeanor charge, you will end up with a criminal record which may likely affect your future. However, the punishment for a misdemeanor will depend on the severity or seriousness of the criminal offense.

For standard California misdemeanor, the offender may face custody in the county jail for a maximum period of six months. Aside from that, those found guilty of misdemeanor charges will have to pay a maximum fine of $1000. Those who commit gross or aggravated misdemeanor, on the other hand, will face up to a year in jail and a fine that may exceed $1000.

Since crimes under the misdemeanor classification carry a penalty of jail time, you are entitled to have a jury trial. You can appear before a judge and have a lawyer represent you. Your attorney will likely go for a plea bargain to reduce your misdemeanor into an infraction and help you avoid a criminal record and jail time.

Some examples of criminal offenses under California’s misdemeanor classification include:

  • Assault and battery
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Disturbing the peace
  • Domestic violence or domestic Battery
  • Drug possession
  • Driving under the influence or drinking while impaired or intoxicated
  • Indecent exposure
  • Petty theft
  • Probation violations
  • Prostitution
  • Public intoxication
  • Receiving stolen property
  • Reckless driving
  • Shoplifting
  • Solicitation of prostitution
  • Trespassing
  • Violation of a protection order


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Felonies are considered the most serious criminal offense in California and all other states in the US. If you’re convicted of felony charges in California, you will face long-term criminal consequences. The punishments may include imprisonment in the county jail or state prison for more than a year with a permanent mark on your criminal record.

Those convicted of felony criminal charges in California may also face a fine of up to $10,000, probation or parole, and other penalties. Habitual felons or those who repeatedly commit felonies will receive an even harsher punishment. These repeat offenders may be sentenced to 25 years of jail time or even life imprisonment.

Since this classification of criminal offense carries severe punishments, it’s best to work with an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. They can help you plea bargain your case down to a misdemeanor during your felony preliminary hearing.

Under the California Penal Code, felony criminal offenses include:

  • Aggravated battery
  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Carjacking
  • Child pornography
  • Domestic violence
  • Drug distribution
  • Drug possession
  • Driving under the influence
  • False imprisonment
  • Fraud
  • Hate crimes
  • Homicide
  • Kidnapping
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder
  • Perjury
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Sexual battery
  • Torture

Wobbler crimes in California

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You may have noticed that some of the criminal offenses mentioned in the article are listed on both misdemeanor and felony classifications. These criminal offenses are considered wobbler crimes in California, where the crime can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Usually, prosecutors are the ones who decide what classification a wobbler crime would fall. However, judges also have the power to decide whether to punish a criminal offense as a wobbler misdemeanor or wobbler felony.  If the defendant gets convicted of a wobbler felony, they may be able to file a petition with the court.

A wobbler felony offense can be reduced to a misdemeanor crime at a preliminary hearing when the defendant is held to answer. There are instances where a felony charge may be reduced to a misdemeanor case during sentencing with the help of a lawyer.

There are a handful of criminal offenses that qualify as wobblers in California. Some of these crimes include:

  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Burglary
  • Carrying a loaded firearm in public
  • Child endangerment
  • Forgery
  • Grand theft
  • Lewd acts with a minor
  • Making criminal threats
  • Sexual battery
  • Spousal battery
  • Stalking
  • Statutory rape
  • Vehicular manslaughter


Although there are various classifications and descriptions of what counts as a criminal offense, one thing is clear. All criminal offenses are punishable by law. If convicted, you may face punishments as simple as a few hundred dollars of fine or severe consequences like life imprisonment.

When you’re facing criminal charges, the first thing that you should do is consult with a local criminal defense attorney. They understand how the criminal law in California works and can help you prepare a good defense. With their help, you’ll have a good chance of getting the best outcome for your case.