What Constitutes a Felony in California?

Felony charges in California encompass serious criminal offenses carrying severe penalties upon conviction. These offenses are classified based on their gravity and potential impact on society. Felonies range from violent crimes such as murder, rape, and assault with a deadly weapon to non-violent offenses like drug trafficking, burglary, and white-collar crimes. Unlike misdemeanors, which typically result in less severe consequences, felony convictions can lead to lengthy prison sentences, hefty fines, and long-term repercussions on one's personal and professional life.

The legal landscape surrounding felony offenses can be complex and daunting, requiring comprehensive knowledge of state laws, legal procedures, and potential defense strategies. Being informed about the nature of felony charges, their potential consequences, and available legal options empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their defense and take proactive steps to protect their rights and future.

Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP defends clients against various felonies. Those facing charges in Los Angeles can contact us at (800) 462-7160 to schedule a consultation.

The Definition and Distinctions of Felonies

Under California Penal Code § 17, felonies are serious criminal offenses punishable by death, imprisonment in state prison, or incarceration in county jail. These crimes carry significant weight in the eyes of the law. The terms of confinement for felony convictions typically exceed one year.

California Penal Code § 19 delineates the differences between felony and misdemeanor offenses. Misdemeanors are considered lesser offenses compared to felonies and carry less severe penalties. Individuals convicted of misdemeanors may face incarceration in county jail for a maximum of six months, along with other potential consequences such as fines, community service, or probation.

Types of Felonies and Their Potential Consequences

In California, many offenses under the state penal code are categorized as felonies or wobblers, which prosecutors have the discretion to pursue as either misdemeanors or felonies.

The following are examples of felonies:

  • Violent felonies:
    • Murder: A conviction can result in life imprisonment.
    • Rape: Penalties may include up to 13 years in prison.
    • Kidnapping: Depending on the circumstances, the maximum possible prison term is life.
    • Robbery: Penalties can include up to 9 years in prison.
  • Drug-related felonies: Offenses such as possession, sale, transportation, administration, or dispensing of drugs can lead to felony charges. Penalties vary based on the type and quantity of drugs involved.
  • Property crimes:
    • Grand theft: A conviction may lead to imprisonment for 16 months or 2 to 3 years.
    • Burglary: First-degree burglary carries penalties of 2, 4, or 6 years in prison, while second-degree burglary may result in 16 months or 2 to 3 years in jail.
    • Shoplifting: Offenders with prior serious felony convictions may face imprisonment for 16 months or 2 to 3 years.
    • Arson: Conviction can result in up to 9 years in prison.

Collateral Consequences of Felony Convictions

Felony convictions can also have consequences not outlined in the crime’s statute but result from other laws, rules, or policies.

Examples of these include the following:

  • Loss of gun rights
  • Potential strike under California’s three strikes law
  • Difficulty accessing public benefits
  • Ineligibility for certain professional licenses and certifications
  • Enhanced scrutiny and challenges when applying for housing
  • Diminished employment prospects due to background checks

The Legal Process for Felony Charges

Facing felony charges in California initiates a complex legal journey that requires a clear understanding of the steps involved. From the initial arrest to potential sentencing, each stage of the legal process plays a critical role in determining the case's outcome.

Here are the typical steps involved in these matters:

  • Arrest, booking, and charges: Law enforcement officers take individuals into custody, complete the booking process, and generate a detailed report of the incident. Subsequently, prosecutors review the report to determine whether to file charges.
  • Arraignment: A judge informs the defendant of the charges against them, their legal rights, and the option to secure a court-appointed lawyer if they cannot afford one. The defendant may enter a plea at this stage, and the court sets a date for a preliminary hearing.
  • Preliminary hearing: At the preliminary hearing, a judge assesses whether sufficient evidence exists to proceed with the case. The prosecution presents evidence supporting the charges, and the defense can cross-examine witnesses and challenge the evidence presented.
  • Trial: The trial phase involves jury selection, opening statements by both the prosecution and defense, presentation of evidence, cross-examination of witnesses, closing arguments, and the judge or jury's decision regarding the defendant's guilt or innocence.
  • Sentencing: If the defendant is found guilty, the court proceeds to the sentencing phase, where the judge determines the appropriate punishment based on several factors, including the severity of the offense, the defendant's criminal history, and mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

Safeguarding Your Rights with Legal Representation

Navigating the criminal justice system can be daunting and complex, especially for individuals without legal insights. A criminal defense attorney is your advocate, providing invaluable guidance and support. With their in-depth knowledge of the law and experience managing similar cases, an attorney can help you understand your rights, explore available defense strategies, and make informed decisions about your case.

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges in Los Angeles, don't hesitate to seek the assistance of the experienced legal team at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP. Call us at (800) 462-7160 or complete an online form.