Charged with a Crime in California?
Criminal Defense Lawyers Explain Charges and Penalties
A criminal conviction can drastically affect the rest of your life. You may face the possibility of jail time, fines and other penalties, and your reputation may be damaged. Additionally, a conviction may prevent you from finding work and/or housing in the future. Since so much hangs in the balance, you should always work a criminal defense lawyer with a history of success. Even innocence is not always an ironclad defense – law enforcement and prosecutors may not care about your side of the story, but will simply focus on getting a conviction. An attorney can work to enforce your rights and expose any misconduct or negligence that may have led to your arrest. In many cases, a good lawyer can get your charges or penalties reduced, minimizing the negative impact on your life.
If you have been arrested or someone you know was taken into police custody, then you should find a lawyer as quickly as possible. No matter what kinds of charges you face, from a misdemeanor to a felony, finding an attorney you trust is essential. To speak with a local California criminal lawyer today, consult our local listings.
What Are the Basic Types of Criminal Charges?
The type of criminal charge you face may vary depending on the nature of the alleged crime. Although each state has its own specific classifications, the general types of charges are:
- Infraction. An infraction is the least serious type of charge you can face. In fact, some states handle infractions as civil cases, rather than criminal cases. Traffic violations and other minor offenses usually fall into this category. Jail is generally not a possibility for infractions, so you are not entitled to a jury trial and the state will usually not appoint you a lawyer. However, you can still hire one of your own.
- Petty offense. Some states, including California, categorize low-level criminal conduct as petty offenses. This may include illegal acts like gambling, disturbing the peace, public indecency, pollution violations and theft of items of low value.
- Misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is a more serious charge and county courts typically handle these cases. Common misdemeanor charges include assault, criminal trespass, theft and certain drug crimes, including possession and sale.
- Felony. This is the most serious type of criminal charge and state and/or federal courts usually handle these cases. Common felonies include murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, vehicular homicide, assault with a deadly weapon, burglary and certain drug crimes.
In some cases, a criminal defense lawyer can negotiate on your behalf with the prosecution to reduce the severity of the charges you face. If the court reduces your charge from a low-level felony to a misdemeanor, for example, then the repercussions you face may be much less serious.
What Is the Penalty for a Misdemeanor in California?
Each state has its own system for classifying misdemeanor and felony charges, and penalties may vary as well. In most states, lawmakers designate crimes by class (such as a “Class 1 misdemeanor” or “Class A misdemeanor”) and fix punishment for each class. Interestingly–and quite unusually, when compared to other states–California’s laws fix punishment on a crime-by-crime basis. If no punishment is fixed in the statute, that offense can be punished by up to six months in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. California misdemeanors fall into two basic categories:
- “Standard” California misdemeanors, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
- “Gross” or “aggravated” misdemeanors, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000 or more.
There are also certain crimes known as California “wobbler” offenses, which the prosecutor can choose to charge as a misdemeanor or a felony at their discretion, and, sometimes, depend upon how the judge decides to treat the conviction.
Wobblers may include: participating in criminal street gang activity; assault; battery; domestic violence; hit and run, embezzlement; certain drug offenses; criminal threats; fraud; vandalism; second degree burglary; bigamy; forging a prescription; and more.
Common standard misdemeanors include:
- Drug possession
- Drunk in public
- Indecent Exposure (1st offense)
- Petty theft
Common “aggravated” misdemeanors include (but are not limited to):
- Domestic battery
- Driving on a suspended license
- DUI without injury
- Violating a restraining order
What Is the Penalty for a Felony in California?
Like misdemeanors, each state has its own system for what qualifies as a felony and what penalties may result from a conviction. In California, felonies are crimes punishable by death or incarceration in state prison, and generally encompass crimes such as murder, rape, burglary, arson, and robbery.
Moreover, California has a “Three Strikes” felony law, which requires that repeat offenders face increasingly elevated punishment with each ensuing felony conviction. With a second offense, a convicted felon faces a doubled prison sentence and with his/her third conviction, the defendant is automatically sentenced to 25 years to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Need a California Criminal Defense Lawyer? We Can Help
If you are facing any level of criminal charge, then a qualified lawyer may be essential to protecting your future. Additionally, if someone you know is currently in police custody, then you may wish to reach out to a lawyer on his or her behalf. To find a California criminal defense lawyer in your area, then consult our attorney listings. If you have general question about criminal law or certain charges, then do not hesitate to ask the lawyers.