California Aligns Misdemeanor Punishment To Help Immigrants Avoid Deportation
Until recently, the Federal Government and the State of California defined criminal "misdemeanors" differently. While the federal government defined a misdemeanor as a crime punishable by up to 364 days, California defined it as one punishable by up to 365 days. This one-day difference often proved disastrous for immigrants with convictions, however, because the Federal government considers a crime punished by 365 days a felony and felony convictions often subject immigrants to deportation or exclusion.
In 1996 Congress enacted the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which expanded the crimes for which legal residents can be deported to include crimes which were punished by 365 days. States which continued to defined misdemeanors as including sentences of 365 days unwittingly caused their immigrant-residents to face not only up to a year in jail, but deportation or exclusion from entry as well. This applied to all immigrants, regardless of whether a sentence was suspended or whether a person spent only a few days in jail.
Effective January 1, 2015, California Senate Bill 1310 changed the maximum misdemeanor sentence to mirror the Federal Government’s 364 days. Senate Bill 1242 then applied this change retroactively, allowing those who were sentenced before 2015 to receive the statute's intended protection.