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Written by Attorney Seth Morris


A first-time arrest can be terrifying. You’ll worry about what will happen next and the penalties you face. But your first arrest does not have to ruin your life.

Having an effective lawyer and a clear understanding of your rights could help reduce the negative impact and result in a favorable resolution, such as getting your charges reduced or dismissed. At Morris Law, we are here to help you navigate your first arrest in California and get you past it.

First-Time Offense Penalties in California

As a first-time offender, you may be under the impression that the penalties you face will be less severe than someone who has previous convictions on their record.

But depending on the details, you could still face harsh consequences. Here are some penalties you could expect for a first offense in CA:

  • Standard misdemeanors are punishable by fines of up to $1000 and up to six months in county jail.
  • Aggravated misdemeanors, commonly called ‘gross misdemeanors,’ are punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and up to 364 days in county jail.
  • Felonies can include time in state prison or county jail, probation, community service, fines, and other penalties.

In felony cases, the amount of time an offender can be sentenced to can vary widely based on the crime and whether there are mitigating or aggravating factors. Generally, the more mitigating factors present, the less severe your sentence, and the more aggravating factors present, the more severe your sentence.

What to Do After Your First Arrest

Mistakes are common for those facing charges for the first time. In the aftermath of an arrest, you can and should take steps to protect yourself and your future. Here are some of the things you should do and not do when you are arrested:

Stay Calm

First and foremost, you must stay calm. Although you have never been arrested before, it is vital that you remain calm and collected as you are arrested. You should never attempt to resist arrest. Instead, follow police instructions implicitly.

Don’t Incriminate Yourself

Anything you say to law-enforcement officials can and will be used against you in a court of law. Police may attempt to discuss the details of your case with you while arresting you or transporting you for booking. You should remain silent and avoid the potential consequences of incriminating yourself.

Don’t Disrespect Police

You mustn’t disrespect the police as they take you into custody. You do not want to risk having additional criminal charges brought against you. You should continue to remain silent until you can reach out to your criminal defense lawyer for help.

Contact a Berkeley Criminal Defense Attorney

As soon as you are booked, you will have the opportunity to make a phone call. You should reach out to your criminal defense lawyer for help as quickly as possible.

Your attorney can help you arrange bail and prepare for what’s to come. We may be able to discuss the details of your case with the state’s prosecuting attorney and get the charges against you reduced or dismissed before it goes to trial.

How An Attorney Helps Obtain Bail

Once you have been arrested, it will be up to your attorney to help you obtain bail. Bail may not always be available, depending on the details of your case. Your criminal defense attorney can request a bail hearing and potentially get your bail reduced to a more reasonable amount.

The court may agree if you have ties to the community and are not a threat to the public, there is good cause to do so, or you are a first-time, non-violent offender.

Options for First-Time Offenders

The prosecutor may be more willing to negotiate a plea agreement with you as a first-time offender. Several options may be presented to you, including:

  • Home detention – Commonly referred to as house arrest, home detention requires you to submit to random drug tests, curfew restrictions, and in-home meetings with your probation officer.
  • Community service – You may be required to perform unpaid work within your community to avoid fines, jail or prison time, or other penalties.
  • Probation – You can be placed on summary probation if you face misdemeanor charges or formal probation if you face felony charges. Probation includes specific requirements such as fines, restitution, drug testing, curfews, and abstaining from drugs or alcohol, among other criteria.
  • Drug diversion programs – If you enter a pretrial diversion program for a drug crime and complete your drug treatment, you may be able to get the drug charges against you dismissed or reduced.

Contact Morris Law for Help

Just because this is your first arrest does not mean the penalties you are facing or not severe. You need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. In the Oakland, California area, contact Morris Law. Schedule your free initial consultation when you call 510-225-9955 or complete our contact form.