What is a Felony Crime in California?
In California, any crime for which you can be sentenced for over one year is considered a felony crime, which is the primary difference between misdemeanors. A felony offense is the most severe and carries the possibility of serving time in state prison, hefty fines, probation, parole, and harsh collateral consequences.
Further, you could receive additional punishment under California’s three-strikes law. Most felony convictions will also impact employment opportunities and professional licensing.
Most people arrested for felonies have previous experience in the criminal justice system and don't know how the case process works. Federal laws prohibit a convicted felon from owning or possessing a firearm or ammunition. It will also result in the loss of voting rights and from holding a public office.
This means you need to avoid a felony conviction if possible. The first step would be to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney with effective litigation and negotiation skills. Often, a case can be negotiated with the District Attorney's Office to get the charges reduced, dismissed, or not formally filed in the first place through prefiling intervention.
Some crimes are "straight" felonies, meaning they can only be charged and sentenced as felonies and can't be reduced to a misdemeanor. These offenses are the most serious and will be considered a “strike” on your record.
Some common California straight felonies are Penal Code 187 PC murder, Penal Code 261 PC rape, and Penal Code 460 PC first-degree burglary. Let's review this topic more closely below.
What Are the Most Common Felony Crimes in California?
Any person charged with a felony offense will have a preliminary hearing where the prosecutor must show the charges are supported by probable cause. A defense lawyer can challenge their evidence and witnesses at this hearing. Some of the most common felonies are:
- Penal Code 647.6 PC – Child Molestation,
- Penal Code 311.1 PC – Child Pornography,
- Penal Code 288 PC – Lewd Acts with a Minor,
- Penal Code 211 PC – Robbery,
- Penal Code 187 PC – Murder,
- Penal Code 664/187 PC – Attempted Murder,
- Penal Code 207 PC – Kidnapping,
- Penal Code 261 PC – Rape,
- Penal Code 215 PC – Carjacking,
- Penal Code 192(c) PC – Gross Vehicular Manslaughter,
- Penal Code 245(a)(2) PC – Assault with a Firearm.
Under Penal Code 995 PC motion to dismiss, defendants can challenge the holding of the preliminary hearing before trial. The case will be dismissed if the trial court judge decides there is insufficient evidence to hold the defendant to answer.
What Are the Standard Penalties for a Felony Conviction?
The standard sentencing for a felony conviction in California includes serving time in a state prison or county jail and a fine of up to $10,000. Still, the judge can impose formal felony probation rather than imprisonment.
If probation is granted, it will typically last for three to five years, but certain conditions must be followed, such as the following:
- Monthly meetings with a probation officer,
- Drug or alcohol testing,
- Anger management classes,
- Community service, and
- Paying victim restitution.
Felony offenses are usually punishable by one of three terms: low, middle, or high. Some criminal statutes dictate whether a sentence is served in a county jail or state prison.
Most people are sentenced to the middle term unless there are some mitigating or aggravating factors, such as using a weapon in the commission of the crime or it was a violent crime. Mitigating factors include no prior criminal history, or it can be shown that they were a minor participant in the crime.
The most severe felonies, like PC 187 first-degree murder where could receive life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
What Are “Wobbler” Crimes?
Many crimes are called a “wobbler,” which means the prosecutor can file the case as either a felony or misdemeanor. To determine the level of charges, a prosecutor considers the underlying circumstances and their criminal record. Some of the most common wobblers in California include:
- Penal Code 273.5 PC – Corporal Injury to Spouse,
- Penal Code 459 PC – Burglary,
- Penal Code 487 PC – Grand Theft,
- Penal Code 245(a)(1) PC – Assault with a Deadly Weapon,
- Penal Code 243.4 PC – Sexual Battery.
If someone is charged with a wobbler, the preliminary hearing judge can reduce a felony to a misdemeanor. For any defendant “held to answer” on a felony case, the judge will schedule another arraignment date, and they will be required to appear in court personally and might be required to post bail.
What About Probation and Collateral Consequences?
In most felonies, defendants can receive a probation sentence instead of serving time in jail. When this occurs, defendants are often ordered to spend up to one year in county jail and then must follow a list of conditions of probation.
When a defendant violates the terms of their felony probation, the judge will often revoke probation and send them to jail for the maximum crime sentence. The judge could also lengthen the probation period and impose more severe conditions.
Any person convicted of a felony must also deal with the natural collateral consequences. For example, they will usually be required to disclose the felony conviction of an employment application, which generally means they will be excluded from consideration.
Convicted felons are prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm. If the felony was sexual-related, they might be required to register as a sex offender under California Penal Code 290.
How Can a Criminal Attorney Help You?
As you see from the information provided above, finding a way to avoid a felony conviction is critical if that is even an option. Of course, this is not always possible. Then, the focus must be finding a strategy to minimize the consequences.
As noted above, probation is often an option for felony defendants if they follow a specific defense strategy, such as being proactive with pursuing drug or alcohol treatment, counseling, anger management counseling, and others.
Our experienced criminal defense team might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor for lesser charges or even get the case dropped. Further, depending on the case, it might also be possible to convince the prosecution not to file formal criminal charges in the first place.
This process is called a “DA reject.” The Los Angeles-based criminal law firm of Eisner Gorin LLP can be reached for an initial case consultation by phone or using the contact form.