Crimes in California are divided into three categories: Infractions, Misdemeanors, and Felonies. Infractions are things like speeding, jaywalking, or texting-while driving, and do not warrant custody over time. If convicted, the defendant usually pays a fine. Misdemeanors are defined as crimes that are punishable by incarceration in the county jail for up to 365 days. If convicted of a misdemeanor, the Defendant may face also face fines, probation, and other obligations to the court. Felonies are crimes that are punishable by up to three years in county jail, or by a state prison sentence up to life (with or without possibility of parole), or by the death penalty.
Misdemeanors are the mid-level category in our statutes. Many misdemeanors are driving related, such as DUI's, Driving on a Suspended License, Reckless Driving, or Driving Without Insurance. However, there are many misdemeanors that have nothing to do with driving. These are crimes such as Domestic Violence, Petty Theft, and in some cases, Vandalism.
Since misdemeanors are the mid-level category, many crimes that are misdemeanors are also "Wobblers"-- the prosecutor can choose to file them as a misdemeanor or as a felony. For instance, a Domestic Violence charge can be a misdemeanor if the victim did not suffer serious injury, or a Felony if the victim was hurt badly.
Despite being a middle category, all misdemeanor offenses must be taken very seriously. It is never advisable to simply stroll into court and plead guilty to a misdemeanor, no matter how benign the offense, or how tolerable the punishment.