Felony Sentencing in California: Quick Guide

May 24, 2021 by Seppi Esfandi in California  Criminal Defense  

Felonies, Misdemeanors, Infractions

The Consequences of a Felony Conviction

Have you or a loved one been arrested? Are you worried that they may be charged with a felony?

If so, keep reading. Below, we’ll discuss what a felony is, how it’s sentenced, and how to avoid a jail sentence.

First – What is a Felony?

Crimes in California are divided into one of three categories. Those would be infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies.

Felonies are the most serious of the three. They carry jail sentences of over a year, unlike misdemeanors which are punished by less than 364 days.

Also, while misdemeanor jail sentences include imprisonment in county jail, felony charges may lead to imprisonment in California’s state prison.

That’s not all. Some felonies come with fines (that are additions to, or replacements of prison sentences), which reach up to $10,000.

In extreme cases, felonies are punishable by death.

In some situations, a judge might choose to sentence a felony charge as a formal probation. If so, the offender serves one year in county jail at most.

The rest of their sentence is then served within the community, and under supervision.

The Two Types of Felonies

Felonies are either categorized as straight or wobbler offenses.

Straight felonies are those that are charged then sentenced as felonies only. Their charges cannot be reduced to misdemeanors.

Examples of straight felonies include rape, murder selling control substances, lewd act with children under 14, and vehicular manslaughter.

Wobbler felonies are charges that may be reduced to misdemeanors. This is only done under the prosecution’s discretion.

In those cases, prosecutors will look at the case facts and defendant criminal history – determining if charges are to be reduced.

Examples of wobbler felonies include vandalism, forgery, domestic violence, sexual battery, and assault using a deadly weapon.

How Long is a Felony Sentence?

In California, felony sentences are divided into one of three terms, depending on the crime’s severity:

  • Low term
  • Middle term
  • High term

NOTE: Los Angeles County courts always imposes low term sentences, absent extraordinary circumstances.

How Do Judges Select the Appropriate Term?

Normally, felony offenders in California receive a middle term.

High terms are only issued if the case has factors which aggravate the crime. Those may include extreme harm or violence.

Alternatively, low terms are issued if the case has factors which mitigate the crime. Those may include limited participation by the offender in a crime.

How Long is Each Term?

The terms for each crime are usually pre-defined in criminal statutes. Those statues also define if a term is to be served in county jail or state prison.

For example, in California, first degree burglaries are punished by the following terms:

  • Low term – 2 years
  • Middle term – 4 years
  • High term – 6 years

What if a Felony Statute Doesn’t Define Imprisonment Terms?

In those situations, the statues will usually define California’s Penal Code 1170(h) as a source for the punishment terms.

Judges will rely on Penal Code 1170(h) to sentence defendants. The county jail terms listed are as follows:

  • 16 months
  • 24 months (or)
  • 72 months

Sentencing Aside – What About Fines?

Some punishments do include fines. They can either replace or supplement a prison sentence. The fine is usually defined in the statue related to the crime.

If a statue doesn’t define the amount, a judge can levy a fine reaching $10,000.

Felony Probations – How Do They Work?

If you or a loved one has been accused of a felony, then you might want to pursue a felony probation.

As mentioned earlier, felony probations minimize jail time to less than a year. Or, they allow offenders to serve their sentence under community supervision.

Do note that practically, most probations serve almost ZERO jail time.

The goal of probation is the rehabilitation of an offender. It gives them a chance to live an upright life, instead of ending it with a long jail sentence.

How Are Probations Granted?

They are granted under a judge’s discretion. A judge can choose to change part or all of an offender’s sentence into a probation.

Formal Probation Lengths.

For a non-violent felony, probation lasts up to 48 months.

Exceptions are made for crimes whose damages exceed $25,000 in value. Offenders may require up to 72 months of probation.

Those crimes include:

Also, note that the 72 month probation doesn’t apply to a violent felony, or any crime whose statute specifies the probation length.

Probation Conditions and Consequences

While on probation, an offender must follow a certain set of rules, which may include:

  • Community service
  • Drug tests (if the felony is related to a Californian drug crime)
  • Therapy (individual or group)
  • Restitution payment to victims
  • Monthly reports to probation officers
  • Compliance for property and person searches (without a warrant)

If offenders violate their probation, a judge can revoke it. After that, the offender will be sent to jail for the crime’s maximum sentence.

The violation may be ignored if it was done under good reason.

In those situations, the judge may choose to impose stricter probation conditions on the defendant. Or, they may choose to increase the probation length.

What About Parole?

Under Californian law, parole only applies if:

  • Offenders were sentenced to state prison
  • Offenders were given an early release (or finished a sentence)

Can You Get a Felony Expunged?

Yes. It’s expungement is something we recommend pursuing. After all, having a criminal record brings many negative consequences, such as:

  • Inability to possess guns (ranging from 10 years, and up to life)
  • Must mention your conviction on a job application (if asked)
  • Must register in Megan’s Law database (if the crime was a sex offense)

Offenders can qualify for expungement if they weren’t sentenced to incarceration. Also, they shouldn’t be serving a sentence, be on probation, or currently be charged for an offense.

Finally, the offender should not have been convicted of certain violent crimes or sex offenses in the past.

What Do I Do?

First, contact a lawyer as soon as possible. It’s also preferable if you don’t talk to authorities until then.

We can be the law assistance you need. At our law firm, we handle a multitude of cases that pertain to Californian law.

In fact, we’d be happy to represent you in court. Contact Esfandi Law Group now, and save yourself (or a loved one) a jail or prison sentence.

Need a Criminal Defense Attorney? CALL NOW: 310-274-6529

Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Criminal Defense Attorney who has over 20 years of practice defending a variety of criminal cases.

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Lara S.
December 3, 2019
Seppi had my case reduced to just an infraction, and thanks to him I was able to keep my job. Jorge was extremely helpful too, the reason I went with this law firm. Overall pleased.

How to Win Your Case

We cannot stress enough that you read, understand and follow these 10 basic rules if you are criminally charged or under investigation:

  1. Don’t ever talk to the police
  2. Do not discuss your case with anyone
  3. Everything you tell your lawyer is confidential
  4. Tell police you need to contact your attorney
  5. Never consent to any search by the police
  6. If the police knock on your door, don't answer!
  7. Realize the consequences of a criminal conviction
  8. Your lawyer (not you) will contact any witnesses
  9. Information on your cell phone is evidence
  10. Early Intervention is the key

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