Crimes in the State of California are classified as either felonies or misdemeanors. The main distinction is felonies, as a considerably more severe form of crime, subject the offender to a period of imprisonment in the state prison if convicted. Misdemeanors could also lead to imprisonment however, the imprisonment is restricted to the county jail instead of the state prison.

Misdemeanor probation is an element of the criminal justice system in California. It allows low-risk criminal offenders to complete their misdemeanor convictions in society, while being monitored by the court, rather than going to jail. Misdemeanor probation, often known as "summary" or "informal" probation in California, comprises regulations and restrictions that differ from formal or felony probation.

In this blog, we describe the aspects of misdemeanor probation as well as how they contrast from felony or formal probation. A skilled criminal attorney can considerably improve an accused's chances of securing informal probation instead of jail time.

Misdemeanor Probation Under California Law

Many individuals convicted of offenses in California, whether felonies or misdemeanors are put on probation. This is usually a common alternative to a prison or jail term.

On many occasions, anyone convicted of a misdemeanor in California is eligible for misdemeanor probation. It is common sentencing for juvenile offenders as well as first-time adult offenders, as it is intended to rehabilitate the offenders and prevent crimes in the future while also helping the sufferer or victims of the offense to recover and safeguarding the public.

However, a defendant with a previous criminal record may also be eligible for misdemeanor probation in particular scenarios. Everything hinges on a judge's assessment of the facts of the current case as well as the previous charge or convictions.

Misdemeanor probation is sometimes subject to a plea bargain between opposing lawyers in California misdemeanor cases. If you've been accused of a misdemeanor in California, you shouldn't risk representing yourself, and you shouldn't take a plea deal unless your defense attorney advises it. Politely insist, if possible, on your right to silence and to have a lawyer present during any interrogation or plea negotiations.

In other situations, the court may probably order misdemeanor probation in addition to your punishment at the moment of sentencing, regardless of any plea bargain or agreement. Misdemeanor probation often implies no incarceration, although if any prison time is necessary as part of the misdemeanor probation conviction, it'll be much less than a jail term without probation.

When you consent to probation, you also commit to abide by the terms of probation. In California, several basic probation conditions include obeying all laws, checking in with probation for felony probation, submitting to drug or alcohol testing, seeking employment, and staying away from specific activities.

Probation isn't always a get-out-of-jail-free pass. If you break the rules of your probation, you may be sentenced to prison or jail. Failing to pay the required fines, failing to report to your probation officer in felony cases, or failing to keep employment are all examples of probation violations. You eliminate the chance of a probation violation by completing probation.

Terms and Conditions of Misdemeanor Probation

Misdemeanor probation usually lasts up to three years. However, the probation term can sometimes be increased to 48 or sixty months. In other minor cases, summary probation could be as short as 12 or 24 months. In whichever situation, the main feature of granting informal probation is imposing specific terms and conditions on the offender. To be placed on summary probation, the offender must agree to these terms.

The very first and most significant term of granting summary probation is that you must follow all of the court's rules and orders. In effect, each new and additional arrest for another misdemeanor violation, as well as any refusal to follow the court's instructions, could lead to a probation violation.

It's worth noting that the burden of proof for a probation violation is far lesser than convicting the defendant of the new purported crime. This indicates that an offender could be convicted by a jury for the additional offense but have their probation violated in a matter that has already been resolved and the offender is on informal probation.

Other typical summary probation terms include the accused's compliance with the following:

  • Completion of the imposed hours of community service
  • Engage in individual or group counseling
  • Participate in an alcohol or drug abuse treatment program
  • Restriction from the consumption of alcohol or prohibited drugs
  • Paying fines or restitution to victims
  • Look for a job

Other summary probation requirements are unique to the offender and the crime that led to the sentence. The severity of these circumstances is usually the basis of plea bargaining between the state and the defense counsel. Some misdemeanor offenses have mandatory statutory penalties that must be enforced if the accused is granted probation and accepts it rather than being sentenced to prison.

How Misdemeanor Probation Differs From Felony Probation

Probation is a sentence that is frequently imposed on lawbreakers who have engaged in felony or misdemeanor offenses. If you're on probation for a misdemeanor charge, the conditions and the penalties for breaking them differ from those of felony probation.

Both felony and misdemeanor probation in the State of California necessitate probationers to follow the terms of agreement of their probation, however, there are a few key distinctions between the two:

Time Frame

The length of a misdemeanor probation period is significantly shorter than that of felony probation. Probation for a felony charge usually lasts 3 to 5 years. After around half of the probationary period has passed, it is usual to request for your probation time to be reduced.

After one year and 6 months on probation, an offender on a three-year sentence may be eligible for a lowering and probation termination. This would be contingent on the individual going "over and beyond" the probationary conditions.  Community service is an excellent method to help with this. On the other hand, misdemeanor probation compared to felony probation is shorter and unlikely to necessitate or receive a time reduction. The requirements are also less stringent.

Probation Reports

Unless the offense involves a sex crime, the judge rarely requests a probation report from the county probation office before punishing a misdemeanor trial. Misdemeanor probationers don't normally report to their probation officers; rather, they have to appear before the judge regularly.


An individual on misdemeanor probation is not obligated to stay in the country or state. You have complete freedom to travel. Because you don't have a probation officer, you don't have to notify anyone about your travel arrangements as there are no limitations on travel.

Felony probation restricts the offender's ability to travel. With no written permission from the probation officer, exiting the state or country is restricted. Permission to leave the country is extremely rare. It's possible though to leave the state for a funeral or emergency medical treatment. This has a higher probability of being approved.


A misdemeanor probation violation is unlikely to result in a jail sentence, although it may result in a short stay in county jail. It is typical to stay in jail for six months to a year for a violation of misdemeanor probation. It's also likely that a drug rehabilitation program will be imposed.

If a felony probation violation occurs, the repercussions could be harsh. Extra penalties against the convicted criminal on probation must be brought before the court by the probation officer. The initial state prison sentence could be imposed in the original case.

If the offense committed was a federal crime and proceedings were filed by a federal agency, the sentence would be served in federal prison. The probationary period is occasionally prolonged, and additional requirements are included in the initial agreement. Probation violations frequently result in fines.

What Happens In the Event of a Misdemeanor Probation Violation?

A misdemeanor probation violation occurs when the terms of summary or informal probation are breached. When the accused violates the terms of probation, he or she is entitled to a formal hearing where the judge will listen to the evidence on the purported violation.

The court has the authority to issue any punishment up to the limit for the basic misdemeanor offense if the offender is found to be guilty of a violation, even after a formal hearing or merely because the accused admits the probation violation. The court may also, and frequently does, place the offender on informal probation or with changes like community service hours as a penalty for the violation.

If a misdemeanor probationer violates the terms and conditions of their probation, the court might choose to ignore the violation and issue a warning, impose stricter terms and conditions, or cancel the probation and sentence the probationer to prison. If the probation violation resulted in a subsequent criminal charge, a further criminal charge may be imposed.

Any offender on misdemeanor probation is normally obligated to return to court regularly to update the judge on his or her progress report. He or she will usually ask questions and handle any issues that arise. If the offender fails to attend (FTA) for this progress report on the specified day, it will be regarded as a probation violation. This will result in a bench warrant being issued.

When misdemeanor probation fulfills all of the requirements of his or her probation without any violations sooner than anticipated, California law allows courts to end the duration of misdemeanor probation.

Many judges, on the other hand, will not allow probationers early termination in cases involving domestic violence or driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

Domestic Violence and DUI

In DUI cases, for instance, any grant of informal probation includes the condition to undertake an alcohol education program certified by the court as well as pay mandatory fees and fines.

On the other hand, in a domestic violence case, the necessity to undergo domestic abuse counseling and therapy will be imposed. It may sound bewildering, but a jail sentence can also be enforced as a probation condition.

For example, an offender could be sentenced to 3 years of informal probation with a requirement of serving ten days in county jail. Even though jail time has been imposed, it's still a probationary conviction.

Some offenses, like second and subsequent DUI charges, require specified minimum durations of jail sentences as a requirement of probation. Lastly, community service may be enforced as a form of alternative punishment to time in jail. If the penalties and costs will cause economic difficulties to the offender, they will likely be able to convert them to community service.

Can Your Misdemeanor Probation be Altered?

The judge often has the power to amend your probation conditions. The court, the accused, or the prosecutor might request this change. A probation modification isn't always in the probationer's best interests. A court might, for example, in reaction to a probation violation:

  • Lengthen the alternative sentencing period, or
  • Lengthen the time the probationer is required to remain in jail.

However, sometimes a defendant may benefit from a probation adjustment.

Possibilities For Work Following a Misdemeanor Probation

Prospective employers in California are prohibited from inquiring about convictions for criminal crimes that did not lead to a conviction. However, if somebody is on probation, it signifies they have been charged and convicted. As a result, an employer is permitted to inquire about – and a candidate is required to report – an adult court sentence that ended in an alternative conviction.

You will not be turned down for a job if you disclose a conviction. Most employers let candidates detail their conviction situation. The fact that you were awarded alternative sentencing by a judge may persuade a prospective employer to give you an opportunity.

You can also file a petition to have your California misdemeanor charge expunged once your alternative sentencing period has ended. You don't have to tell most potential employers about an expungement once the court permits it.

Misdemeanor Expungement

An expungement lets your plea be removed and have the charges dropped. If approved, an expungement relieves a person of practically all fines and restrictions resulting from the sentence. The Department of Justice is then alerted, and your RAP Sheet modified to reflect the dismissal of the case.

If you've been charged with a misdemeanor in California, you might become concerned about finding work or renting a house due to your conviction. According to the California Penal Code 1203, this procedure known as expungement can help you get a misdemeanor conviction erased from your records.

You must however meet these 5 criteria before applying for an expungement:

  • You finished your term and met all of the terms of your probation, which included paying all fees and restitution and participating in any court-ordered activities or programs
  • You have completed your probationary period
  • You aren't presently serving time for a different crime
  • You haven't been convicted of any other criminal offenses
  • Not less than one year has elapsed since the conviction and sentence for which you're requesting expungement

Who Can't Have Their Records Expunged?

You might not be able to erase any offenses for which you went to state prison. However, if you meet the requirements of Proposition 47 and could have been sentenced to the county jail, you may be eligible for an expungement if certain circumstances are met.

The following offenses are not eligible for expungement:

  • Any crime that involved child pornography
  • Perpetrating a lewd act with a child
  • Sodomy with a minor
  • Oral copulation with a minor
  • Rape between an individual above the age of 21 and someone below 16 years
  • Forced penetration using a foreign object
  • Lascivious actions with a child
  • Failure to stop and surrender to a vehicle inspection, or a dangerous situation threatening an individual
  • Rape

Expungement's key goal is to assist post-conviction people who have fulfilled probation in finding meaningful work.

The Advantages of an Expungement After a Misdemeanor Probation

  • Your criminal conviction will be concealed from employers and prospective employers
  • You may be able to maintain or acquire your professional or occupational license
  • Your criminal background will not be visible to anybody with whom you do business

When the judge grants you expungement, you won't have to reveal the expunged record, and it won't be public. The "erased" record, on the other hand, could be used against you in other subsequent convictions. If you're running for office, applying for a government or municipal agency license, or doing business with the California State Lottery Commission, you'll have to reveal your conviction.

Contact a San Jose Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Get in touch with our criminal defense attorneys at San Jose Criminal Attorney Law Firm today if you or someone you know has been convicted with a misdemeanor. We service the city of San Jose, California, as well as the neighboring areas.

We'll engage with you and learn more about your case and you'll also learn more about our successful misdemeanor defense strategies. Our attorneys appear in California courts regularly and have successfully defended numerous cases exactly like yours. Call us at 408-622-0204 today.