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What You Need to Know About Felonies in California

Steven R. Andrade Nov. 6, 2015

If you have been charged with a felony offense, there are certain things that you should be aware of as you move ahead to resolve the matter. Felonies are the most serious types of crimes in California. Felonies include a wide range of offenses, from non-violent crimes such as burglary to violent crimes including sexual assault and murder.

If you are convicted of a felony, you may be sentenced to time in a county jail, state prison, or in some instances, supervised probation, depending on the offense. Because of the seriousness of any felony charge, you have a constitutional right to an attorney and to a jury trial. You should seek the advice of a seasoned criminal defense attorney right away to avoid making an error that could adversely affect the outcome of your case.

Santa Barbara criminal defense attorney Steven R. Andrade has successfully handled thousands of criminal defense cases. Andrade is a former prosecutor and uses his decades of legal experience to the benefit of his clients throughout Southern California. He will work aggressively to protect your rights and minimize the impact of a felony charge on your life.

Types of Felonies in California

As a general rule, a felony is an offense that could result in a prison sentence or a death sentence in California.

Under California's penal code, some offenses may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. These are known in the law as wobblers. The prosecutor will weigh the particular facts of the case and your prior record in deciding whether to charge the offense as a misdemeanor or felony. Offenses such as drunk driving and property crimes such as burglary of an uninhabited dwelling might be prosecuted as either a felony or misdemeanor.

Certain non-violent drug offenses and property crimes that were once classified as felonies are now prosecuted only as misdemeanors, as a result of voter approval of California Proposition 47. The measure requires that the following offenses be charged as misdemeanors:

  • Forgery

  • Petty Theft

  • Shoplifting

  • Insufficient Funds

  • Receiving Stolen Property

  • Drug Possession for Personal Use.

If you have been convicted of one of these offenses as a felony, you may be eligible to file for reclassification of the offense to a misdemeanor and sentencing relief under the law.

California Statistics About Felony Arrests

Violent crimes including murder, robbery, rape and other offenses involving sexual misconduct are always charged as felonies, under California law.

Serious felonies and violent felonies count as strikes under California's Three Strikes law. The law mandates that a repeat offender who has two more convictions of serious or violent felonies shall receive a life sentence with a minimum term of sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

In 2014, more than two-thirds of adult felony arrests in California led to convictions, according to a California Department of Justice summary report.

Significantly, about 12 percent of the felony charges were dismissed in 2014, the report said. Probation with jail time was the most common sentence given to adults convicted of felonies. More than 244,000 adults were on active probation for felony offenses in California in 2014.

Felony Conviction on Your Record

A felony conviction on your record will have a lasting effect on your life. You could lose your freedom for a lengthy period. A felony conviction also makes it more difficult for you to get a job and get back on your feet. You are required to list a felony conviction on job applications. It can affect your ability to gain child custody and restrict your right to own a firearm in California.

If you have been arrested for a felony, you will want to contact an attorney as quickly as possible before making any statement to police. Police should advise you of your right to an attorney, and you should exercise that right. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who knows the local court system may be able to negotiate the reduction of a felony charge to a misdemeanor.

After a felony arrest, you will be required to make a first appearance in court at an arraignment hearing. It's important to have a lawyer stand up for you at the arraignment hearing. You'll be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. You'll want the guidance of an attorney when entering any plea. It's just the start of a lengthy process.

The pre-trial phase follows the arraignment hearing with your criminal defense attorney obtaining copies of the police evidence against you and analyzing it for inconsistencies and weaknesses. During this pretrial phase after a felony arrest, an aggressive criminal defense attorney will be in contact with the prosecutor's office to try to reach an agreeable resolution of the charges to avoid a trial.

Felony cases can take many months to work their way through the California criminal justice system. It's important to have a lawyer who is knowledgeable of the system and the local courts.

Felonies are the most serious category of offenses in California. If you have been charged with a felony, you need legal assistance.

If an individual is convicted of a felony offense, the judge will set the sentence according to the California penal code, taking in account whether there are aggravating factors such as use of extreme violence or a firearm that point to a stiffer sentence or mitigating factors that argue in favor of a lighter sentence.

In some instances involving drug offenses, there may be an opportunity to seek diversion into a treatment program to avoid active jail time. You want a Santa Barbara criminal defense attorney who will work to identify the best options for you.

Contact Andrade Law Offices to review your case.