Felonies & Misdemeanors
California law recognizes three types of crimes in order of decreasing severity: felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions. Infractions are minor offenses, like traffic violations. Misdemeanors are considered lesser offenses than felonies, which are punished the most severely. In many cases, engaging the legal services of a knowledgeable California criminal defense attorney can make the difference between being charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, and therefore have a significant impact on the outcome of your case.
California Penal Code section 19 provides that every misdemeanor offense is punishable by not more than six months in a county jail, or by a fine of no more than $1000, or both, except when a different punishment is set forth in the penal code. Certain misdemeanors have harsher penalties and are considered aggravated misdemeanors. Among these are DUIs of varying levels of seriousness, and certain types of battery. One example of an offense that carries a heavier punishment is the misdemeanor of battery on a peace officer; the penalty for that offense is imprisonment in county jail for up to a year, a $2000 fine, or both.
Some judges impose probation, rather than require convicted defendants to go to jail. Probation includes specified conditions that must be met to avoid jail, and can include community service, house arrest, counseling, and/or payment of restitution.
Felonies include white-collar crimes, certain drug crimes, sex crimes, and violent and serious crimes. The first two types of offenses are relatively less serious than the latter three, and may be punished by sentences of between five and twenty years in prison and fines, or only a prison sentence. Sex felonies are more serious and can lead to the requirement of lifelong registration as a sex offender.
Violent and serious felonies are punished the most harshly; they include felony DUI, mayhem, kidnapping, murder, involuntary manslaughter, arson and others. California’s three strikes law is a sentencing rule that significantly increases the prison sentences of repeat offenders who are convicted of violent and serious felonies.
Usually penalties are tailored to the specific felony at issue, and are set forth in the statutes. As with misdemeanors, a person who is convicted of a felony may be given probation, rather than a state prison sentence. Probation may include monetary fines, county jail time, and/or restitution.
When statutes define a crime as either a misdemeanor or a felony, it is up to the prosecutor to decide how the offense, often called a “wobbler,” should be charged. The prosecutor may base this decision on many factors, including the particular circumstances and background of the arrested individual. A prosecutor is less likely to charge an offense as a misdemeanor if the individual to be charged has an extensive criminal record.
Additionally, under California Penal Code section 17(b), felony convictions can be reduced to misdemeanors if: (1) the offense is a wobbler, and (2) the defendant was granted probation. If the court denied probation or a defendant violated his probation and had to serve his sentence in state prison (as opposed to county jail), the defendant isn’t eligible for a reduction.
A reduction in a felony conviction can be useful because it allows defendants to answer honestly that they have never been convicted of a felony for purposes of securing a job, getting housing, or obtaining or maintaining a professional license. Certain penalties still hold in the case of a reduction, such as a requirement to register as a sex offender, the impact of the conviction for purposes of California’s three strikes law, and others.
If you or a loved one is arrested or accused of a misdemeanor or felony, the consequences can be serious. However, knowledgeable legal counsel can defend you against these allegations, and potentially work with the prosecution to negotiate lesser charges or penalties. You should consult with an experienced Sacramento criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to mount an effective defense. Contact the Wise Law Group at 916-498-9473 or via our online contact form.