My understanding of facts is: a person was cited into court for a misdemeanor charge of petty theft. This person made two appearances. At the second, this person admitted to an an infraction for petty theft and was ordered to pay a fine.
The question now seems to be was this a good thing. The "burr under the saddle" so to speak is the inability to expunge the infraction.
Here is the situation. The arrest will always be on this person's DOJ record and there will always be a file in the county court house for anyone to look at. This would be true even if the person had pled to a misdemeanor.
An expungement does not "cure" all negative aspects. Even with an expungement, person would have to admit fact of conviction if applying for a government job or license to pursue some profession (real estate agent, cosmotology, nurse, attorney, etc.)
Person did the right thing by accepting the negotiated plea to an infraction.
Person may also get a letter from the entity's attorney wanting money for the damages per a penal code section. I generally advise clients to either ignore the demand, (because they cannot prove the "damages" - security is a part of their on going expense so it is not a damage) or if so inclined offer the minimum of 50.00 and not admit fault.
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I agree with Mr. Hudson that an infraction is better than a misdemeanor... and, effective 1/1/2011, it is now possible to "expunge" an infraction (except for Vehicle Code violations and a few others).
See California Penal Code 1203.4a (no parenthesis around the "a'). The latest version may not be eligible everywhere, but you can find it at the official California Legislature website.
As Mr. Hudson notes, a dismissal under Penal Code 1203.4 or 1203.4a doesn't really "expunge" anything, because it will always be part of the court's public records. When asked about prior convictions -- especially when applying for government jobs or licenses -- you should read the question carefully and see if you are required to disclose infractions.
I believe you've posted this question in another form previously.
You cannot compare different cases and the seemingly different results. The facts of each case are unique, as are individual defendants and their records (or lack thereof).
You can now seek the "expungement" of an infraction one year from the date of the plea, so in a way - an infraction up front with an expungement at the end beats a misdemeanor up front with the same expungment.