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Prosecuting Misdemeanors– Part Two

George Gascón was sworn in as Los Angeles County’s new District Attorney on Monday December 7, 2020 and becomes the county’s 43rd district attorney. The goal of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is to protect public safety. As such, District Attorney George Gascón has taken initiative to begin immediate reform of the criminal justice system by implementing a misdemeanor reform policy directive.

What is Considered a Misdemeanor?

In California, a misdemeanor is a crime that has a maximum sentence of no more than one year in county jail. A misdemeanor is more serious than an infraction but is less serious than a felony. Common examples of misdemeanor crimes include DUIs, shoplifting, public intoxication, and petty theft.

A standard California misdemeanor is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. On the other hand, an aggravated misdemeanor is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000 or more. A misdemeanor is aggravated if the crime is more serious than others. Example of an aggravated misdemeanor include domestic battery, driving on a suspended license, and violating a restraining order.

What Happens Under the Misdemeanor Reform Policy Directive?

The misdemeanor charges specified below shall be dismissed before arraignment and without conditions unless exceptions or factors for consideration exist. As noted, an arraignment is a hearing where the court formally charges a person who has been arrested for a crime. The reform policy took effect on December 8, 2020 and will replace prior policies.

However, the following misdemeanors may not be dismissed provided the following exception or factor for consideration are found: the person charged has a repeat similar offense over the prior 24 months involving substantially similar behavior to that charged.

  • Driving Without a Valid License – Vehicle Code §12500 (a) – (e)

In California, it is illegal to drive without a valid driver’s license. The driver’s license does not have to have issued by the State of California.

A person is typically in violation when: a) they drive and they fail to renew a driver’s license; b) never got a driver’s license in the first place; or c) become a California resident and fail to get a new driver’s license within 10 days.

  • Driving on a Suspended License – Vehicle Code §14601.1(a)

In California, it is illegal for a person to knowingly drive in the state with a suspended or revoked driver’s license.

Examples of this include: a) driving a car after having a license suspended for a DUI; b) operating a vehicle after a license revocation for being a habitual traffic offender; or c) driving during a period of suspension for refusing to submit to a chemical test.

  • Loitering – Penal Code §647(b), (c), (d), (e)

In California, it is illegal to engage in or to solicit prostitution. This is defined as offering to pay or accept money or something of value in exchange for a sexual act. When a prostitute and a customer engage in sexual intercourse or lewd acts, both are engaged in the act of prostitution.

Examples of loitering include: a) a man offers drugs to a woman in exchange for a sexual act; b) a woman allows a man to fondle her in exchange for money; or 3) a police officer accepts a woman’s offer to have sex in exchange for not writing her a traffic ticket.

The charges listed above are not the entirety of the list. In fact, please read our other blog posts (maybe you can hyperlink them here) that make mention of other misdemeanors that will be prosecuted differently as of December 8, 2020.

Prosecutors have discretion to look at other exceptions or factors for consideration if a person poses an identifiable, continuing threat to another individual or there are other circumstances of similar seriousness. The diversion policy will not apply to offenses excluded under Penal Code §1001.95 (a judge in the superior court in which the misdemeanor is being prosecuted may, at the judge’s discretion, and over the objection of a prosecuting attorney, offer an alternate to a defendant) and any driving under the influence offenses.

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