What is a Felony Crime in California?
Any crime in California where you can be sentenced to longer that one year is considered a felony crime, which is the main difference from a misdemeanor.
A felony is the most severe type of crime and typically includes the possibility of a state prison sentence, hefty fines, formal probation, and parole. A convicted felon is also banned from owning or possessing a firearm.
There is sometimes the chance of additional penalties under California’s three-strikes law. Most alleged perpetrators arrested for a felony have prior experience in the California criminal justice system and know how the case process works.
Some offenses are "straight" felonies, meaning they can only be charged and sentenced as felonies and not reduced to a misdemeanor. These felonies are usually the most severe and a “strike” on a defendant's criminal history.
What Are the Common Felonies?
Anyone charged with a felony crime will have a preliminary hearing where the prosecutor has to show probable cause. However, a Penal Code 995 PC motion to dismiss can challenge the holding of the preliminary hearing, and the case could be dismissed if there is insufficient evidence.
Still, it should be noted that this is essentially a kangaroo court, and the case will normally proceed to a trial court. Some of the most common felony crimes in California include the following:
- Penal Code 187 PC – Murder;
- Penal Code 664/187 PC – Attempted murder;
- Penal Code 207 PC – Kidnapping;
- Penal Code 311.1 PC – Child pornography;
- Penal Code 647.6 PC – Child molestation,
- Penal Code 288 PC – Lewd acts with a minor;
- Penal Code 261 PC – Rape;
- Penal Code 211 PC – Robbery;
- Penal Code 215 PC – Carjacking;
- Penal Code 245(a)(2) PC – Assault with a firearm.
What Are the Common Penalties for Felonies?
The standard sentencing for felonies includes time in a county jail or state prison and a fine of up to $10,000. However, in many cases, the judge could grant formal felony probation rather than imprisonment.
If probation is granted for a felony conviction, it will typically last for three to five years. Still, certain conditions have to be followed, such as the following:
- monthly meeting with a probation officer;
- mandatory drug or alcohol testing;
- perform community service;
- victim restitution;
- anger management classes and counseling.
Notably, felonies are generally punishable by one of three terms: low, middle, or high. In addition, some statutes will say whether a felony sentence is served in a county jail or California state prison.
Most felony defendants are sentenced to the middle term. Still, sometimes mitigating (no criminal history) or aggravating factors can impact sentencing, such as using a weapon during the crime or if violence was involved.
For some severe felonies, such as Penal Code 187 PC first-degree murder, the convicted defendant would receive life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or the death penalty, which at this point, is just a name only.
What Are “Wobblers?”
A“wobbler” is a crime that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony based on the case details and the alleged perpetrator's criminal record. Some of the most common wobblers in California include the following:
- Penal Code 273.5 PC – Corporal injury to a spouse;
- Penal Code 243.4 PC – Sexual battery;
- Penal Code 487 PC – Grand theft;
- Penal Code 459 PC – Burglary;
- Penal Code 245(a)(1) PC – Assault with deadly weapon.
Notably, the preliminary hearing judge can reduce a felony to a misdemeanor.
What is Felony Probation?
In most felony cases, defendants could be granted probation by the judge rather than jail time. However, defendants will often be ordered to spend up to one year in county jail first and then follow a list of conditions of probation.
If a defendant violates the terms of their felony probation, the judge can revoke probation and send them to jail for the original suspended sentence. However, they could also make the probation period longer with stricter conditions.
Further, anyone convicted of a felony will have to deal with the collateral consequences, such as disclosing the felony conviction of an employment application.
Under federal law, convicted felons are prohibited from owning or possessing firearms. In addition, for some sex crimes, a conviction might result in a mandatory sex offender under California Penal Code 290 PC.
Why Do You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
When you retain an experienced California criminal defense lawyer, they may be able to help you avoid a felony conviction, but this is not always an option.
They could devise a strategy to minimize the harsh consequences if guilt is not in doubt.
As noted, felony probation is often an option for defendants. However, suppose your lawyer can negotiate with the prosecutor to pursue drug or alcohol treatment and anger management counseling. In that case, the case might be reduced to a misdemeanor with lesser penalties.
Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecutor prefiling to convince them not to file formal charges in the first place, called a “DA reject.” The first step is to retain an experienced criminal attorney with effective litigation and negotiation skills. If possible, avoiding a felony conviction is crucial.
If you were charged with a felony crime in California, contact our law firm to examine the case details and legal options. We offer a free case consultation via phone or the contact form. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, CA.