Under California’s laws, misdemeanors are crimes punishable by up to 364 days in local or county jail. More serious crimes (felonies) are punishable by death or imprisonment in state prison. (Cal. Pen. Code § § 16, 17, 18.5.) Interestingly, until January 1, 2015, the maximum sentence was "one year." The legislature changed the maximum to one day less, in order to avoid harsh immigration consequences to those convicted of misdemeanors.
As of January 1, 2017, the 364-day sentence is to be applied retroactively, so that those who actually served 365 days can apply to a California court for a sentence reduction, after the fact, to 364 days. For more information on this issue, see the sidebar, "Misdemeanors Now Carry a Sentence of 364 Days, Not One Year: Immigration Implications" in Nolo's article, "Resentencing Under California's Proposition 47."
For more information on felonies in California, see California Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
In most states, lawmakers designate crimes by class (such as a “Class 1 misdemeanor”) and fix punishment for each class. California’s laws fix punishment on a crime-by-crime basis. If no punishment is fixed in the statute, that offense can be punished by up to six months in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. (Cal. Pen. Code § 19.)
For example, prostitution is a misdemeanor in California, punishable by up to six months in county jail, a fine of up to $1000, or both.
Almost all crimes have a time limit, called the statute of limitations, by which the state must begin criminal prosecution or the defendant can have the case dismissed. Many states have one statute of limitations for felonies and another for misdemeanors. California’s lawmakers set the statutes of limitations on a crime-by-crime basis and there are many variations. For more information, see California Criminal Statute of Limitations.
If you are charged with any crime in California, including a misdemeanor, you should talk to a criminal defense attorney about your case. California’s criminal laws are complicated and the best way to avoid a conviction and obtain the best possible outcome is to work with an experienced attorney. An attorney can tell you what to expect in court and help you present the strongest defense.