In the state of California, any crime where you can be sentenced for more than one year is considered a felony crime. This fact is the difference between a misdemeanor and felony criminal offense. Many people who are arrested for a felony have no prior experience in the California criminal justice system and don't understand how the criminal case process works.
The two major classifications of crimes in California are felonies and misdemeanors. A felony offense is the most serious and apart from a potential state prison sentence and large fines, a felony conviction carries other harsh consequences.
For example, many felony convictions can place the defendant at risk of additional punishment under California's three strikes law. A felony conviction can make it difficult or even impossible to obtain certain types of employment or professional licensing.
Also, federal laws prohibit a convicted felon from owning or possessing a firearm or ammunition. A felony conviction will also result in the loss of voting rights and from holding a public office.
This means avoiding a felony conviction is a top priority. You will need an experienced criminal defense lawyer who known how to effectively negotiate with the prosecutor for a reduction in charges or even a case dismissal.
There are certain crimes known as a "straight" felony, which is a crime that can only be charged and sentenced as a felony offense and can't be reduced to a misdemeanor. These type of crimes are the most serious and will count as a “strike” on your record.
Some common straight felonies in California include murder under Penal Code 187, rape under Penal Code 261, and first-degree burglary under Penal Code 459. A conviction for these type of serious felony crimes will often be sentenced to a California state prison.
In order to give readers more useful information about felony crimes, our California criminal defense attorneys are providing an overview below.
Common California Felony Crimes
Anyone who is charged with a felony crime will proceed to a preliminary hearing where the prosecutor has to show the criminal charges are supported by probable cause. At the hearing, the prosecutor's evidence and witnesses can be challenged. Some of the most common felony charges include:
- Penal Code 211 – Robbery
- Penal Code 187 – Murder
- Penal Code 664/187 – Attempted Murder
- Penal Code 207 – Kidnapping
- Penal Code 261 – Rape
- Penal Code 647.6 – Child Molestation
- Penal Code 311.1 – Child Pornography
- Penal Code 288 – Lewd Acts with a Minor
- Penal Code 287 – Grand Theft
- Penal Code 215 - Carjacking
- Penal Code 192(c) – Gross Vehicular Manslaughter
- Penal Code 245(a)(2) – Assault with a Firearm
Under California Penal Code 995 motion to dismiss, a defendant could challenge the holding of the preliminary hearing before trial. If the trial court judge determines there was insufficient evidence to hold the defendant to answer to the felony charges, then the case will be dismissed.
Penalties for a California Felony Conviction
The sentencing for a California felony can include imprisonment a state prison or county jail, and a fine up to $10,000. However, the judge has the discretion to sentence a defendant to formal felony probation.
If the judge grants probation, it will normally last for three to five years, but there are certain conditions that must be followed. For example, there are monthly meetings with a probation officer, drug testing, community service, and paying victim restitution.
Felony offenses in California are normally punishable imprisonment by one of three terms, including low term, middle term, or a high term. There are some criminal statutes that dictate whether a sentence is served in a county jail or California state prison.
Most defendants who are sentenced for a felony crime are sentenced to the middle term, unless there are some aggravating or mitigating factors given to the sentencing judge.
Aggravating factors usually include the using a weapon in the commission of the crime or it was a violent crime. Mitigating factors include no prior criminal record or they were a minor participant in the crime.
The most serious felonies, such as first-degree murder, are a capital crime where the defendant could receive life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
Wobble Crimes in California
There are many California offenses known as a “wobbler,” which can be filed as either a felony or misdemeanor. When determining exactly what level of charges to file, a prosecutor considers the underlying circumstances of the crime and the defendant's criminal record. Some of the most common Calfornia wobblers include:
- Penal Code 459 – Burglary
- Penal Code 273.5 – Corporal Injury to Spouse
- Penal Code 245(a)(1) – Assault with a Deadly Weapon
- Penal Code 243.4 – Sexual Battery
If the defendant was charged with a “wobbler,” the preliminary hearing judge could reduce a felony case to a misdemeanor after arguments from their criminal lawyer.
If defendant is “held to answer” on the felony offense, then the judge will set another arraignment date and the defendant would be required to personally appear in court and could be required to post bail.
Felony Probation and Collateral Consequences
In most felony cases, the convicted defendant could be sentenced to probation, rather than serving their sentence in jail. If the judge decides to grant probation in a felony case, the defendant could order them to spend up to one year a county jail and then required to follow several conditions of probation.
The terms and conditions of probation could include monthly meetings with a probation officer, drug and alcohol testing, fines, community service hours, anger management classes, counseling, restitution, and other conditions relevant to the type of crime.
If a defendant violates the terms of felony probation, the judge could revoke probation and send the defendant to jail for the maximum sentence of their crime. However, the judge could also increase the period of probation and impose more severe conditions.
Anyone convicted of a California felony crime will also have to deal with many collateral consequences. For example, they will be required to disclose the felony conviction of an application for employment. They will also be prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm. If they were convicted of a sex crime (link), they will be required to register as a sex offender under California Penal Code 290.
How Our Los Angeles Criminal Lawyers Can Help You
Finding a way to avoid a California felony conviction is crucial. In a case where it's not possible, then the focus must shift over to finding a strategy to minimize the consequences of a conviction.
Probation is an option for many types of felony crimes. A defendant has a higher chance of receiving probation if they follow a certain strategy after they were charged. This could include drug or alcohol treatment, counseling, anger management counseling, and others.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges or even get the case dropped. Also, through prefiling intervention, it might be possible to avoid the formal filing of charges. We need to first review the details of your felony case.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-ranked criminal law firm located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. We are also located right next to the Van Nuys Courthouse at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401. Contact our office for an immediate consultation at (310) 328-3776.