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Understanding California Felony Charges

For someone charged with a crime in California, it matters what that crime is as well as its classification. The consequences of a conviction will vary depending on the classification of the crime. A strong, strategic defense is the best means to avoid a conviction or, alternatively, accept a plea deal in the defendant's favor.

At the Law Office of Eugene Kilbride, our criminal defense lawyer in Central Valley, CA investigates each case with care and strategizes accordingly. Our legal team will help you understand the charges against you, what the possible outcomes are, and how we will move forward. Contact us at (209) 719-1401 to schedule a Free Consultation and learn more about any alleged criminal charges filed against you and how our criminal defense attorney will proceed with your case.

Felony Charges in California

A felony is a crime punishable by more than one year in state or federal prison. Felony charges can be brought by local, state, or federal prosecutors and are processed through state or federal courts, depending upon who brought the charges.

Felonies are crimes against people and/or property.

Examples of felony crimes against people include:

  • Rape
  • Kidnapping
  • Aggravated assault
  • Human trafficking
  • Armed robbery
  • Extortion
  • Child pornography
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder

Examples of felony crimes against property include:

  • Grand theft auto
  • Burglary
  • Arson
  • Forgery
  • Embezzlement
  • Securities fraud

Felony Classifications in California

Both Federal and State governments distinguish crimes as felonies or misdemeanors with felonies as the more severe category. Within these two categories, felonies and misdemeanors are further classified according to their level of severity. States generally use either an alphabetical (A, B, C) or numerical (1, 2, 3) system to distinguish the severity of the felony. A few states combine letters and numbers to provide a more complex ranking system.

States typically have three classes of felonies while some states use up to ten. Either way, the purpose is simple: to assign punishment in an orderly and equitable manner.

An Example of Felony Classifications

In states using three levels, you might find the following:

  • Class A/Class 1. This category is home to the most serious felonies to be committed, like first-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, arson, armed robbery, or rape. Punishment is also the most severe, often involving more than ten years to life in prison and/or a fine of up to $100,000 or more.
  • Class B/Class 2. This category is home to felonies less severe than Class A/1 but more severe than Class C/3 felonies. These felonies could include involuntary manslaughter, larceny, and assault. Punishment could involve a prison sentence of up to ten years and/or a fine of up to $20,000 or more.
  • Class C/Class 3. This category is home to felonies considered the least severe of all felonies and could include criminal trespass, criminal solicitation, or internet stalking. Punishment could include a prison sentence of two to five years and/or a fine of up to $10,000 or more.

Keep in mind that the above is a simple example of what felony classifications could look like. States vary widely in the way they set up, categorize, and process felonies.

Differences between California Misdemeanor and Felony Charges

The differences between misdemeanors and felonies are stark, so you do not want to assume that a criminal charge is like any other criminal charge in California. Some of the differences involve constitutional rights, procedures, and the extent of punishment.

  • Constitutional rights. A conviction for a felony offense can impact a felon's constitutional rights, particularly as those rights pertain to gun ownership and voting. Some states even take away the right to hold public office after becoming a convicted felon.
  • Legal procedures. Given the potential consequences of a felony conviction, the legal procedures around arresting, charging, and prosecuting someone for a felony offense are usually more immediate and complex than those for misdemeanors. For example, a felony warrant leads to an immediate arrest while a warrant related to a misdemeanor may not require an immediate arrest. Also, federal felonies require grand jury indictments while some states impose the same requirement for felony charges. The same is not true for misdemeanors.
  • Punishment. The penalties for a felony are harsher than misdemeanor convictions. Felonies often require more than one year in prison up to life and beyond and/or up to $100,000 in fines, depending on the crime and circumstances. Misdemeanors result in less than one year in jail, if at all, and possible fines typically up to $500 but generally not more than $1,000.
  • Recidivism. Repeat felony offenders often face increasingly harsher penalties, including automatic life sentences, in light of their criminal history. 
  • Expungement. Felonies are much harder, if not impossible, to have expunged than misdemeanors.

Can a Felony be Reduced to a Misdemeanor in California?

Because convictions of felonies result in higher penalties and collateral consequences, there are times when having the felony reduced to a lesser offense, like a misdemeanor, can improve the outcome of the case. The process and potential ways to have this done vary according to each state's laws.

Generally, at least one of the following could apply to your unique situation:

  • Plea deal. Through negotiations, you could get a felony reduced to a misdemeanor by pleading guilty to a lesser offense, also referred to as charge bargaining or plea bargaining.
  • Diversion programs. In some felony cases, you could participate in a pretrial diversion program and upon completion of it, the felony charge will be reduced. These diversion programs are often available for charges related to drunk driving, drug possession, domestic violence, and shoplifting.
  • Probation. In some cases where a defendant is punished with probation and not prison, an option to have the felony reduced upon successful completion of probation may be available.
  • Wobbler. Some states have wobbler crimes, where the crime wobbles between a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the facts and circumstances. The prosecutor has discretion over which to file, and if the prosecutor files the charge as a felony, your attorney can argue the felony is not supported by the facts.

If you want to know more about getting a felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor, it is important to consider all the possible outcomes with your criminal defense lawyer. At the Law Office of Eugene Kilbride, our criminal defense attorney will weigh the pros and cons so that you can make an informed decision about the direction of your case.

When Do You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney in California? 

A criminal conviction, especially for a felony offense, can have long-lasting impacts on your life that extend past any custodial sentence you may receive. You are not required to retain a criminal defense lawyer, but it is highly advisable. The laws, procedures, and overall experience can be confusing and overwhelming. You need a criminal defense lawyer to help you through it because mistakes can be fatal to your case.

You have a constitutional right to an attorney to help you defend against criminal allegations, but only indigent persons – defendants who meet the state-imposed poverty line – are awarded a public defender. Everyone else must obtain a private criminal defense attorney. It can be expensive, but it is better than the alternative. That said, with the right attorney, it will end up saving you much more in the long run.

Here are just a few reasons why you would want to schedule a consultation with our criminal defense lawyer in Central Valley, CA.

  1. Investigation. An attorney will investigate your case as well as collect and review evidence.
  2. Strategy. Whether it is to negotiate a favorable plea deal or argue your defense before a jury, an attorney will use strategy to obtain the best outcome.
  3. Resources. A criminal defense attorney typically already has the resources necessary to competently represent a client, including a network of experts upon which to call if needed.
  4. Knowledge. Attorneys know the court system, the judges, the procedures, and more, which is valuable information needed for a successful criminal defense.
  5. Rights. An attorney can identify whether any constitutional rights have been violated and if so, file a motion to respond accordingly. Throughout the criminal proceedings, your attorney will also ensure your rights are upheld and a fair trial is given.

Our criminal defense lawyer at the Law Office of Eugene Kilbride will investigate thoroughly, strategize effectively, and uphold your rights and integrity.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Central Valley, CA Today

Our criminal defense attorney at the Law Office of Eugene Kilbride will protect your rights and help you navigate the criminal justice system. We aim to secure the best possible outcome given the facts and circumstances of your felony charge. Contact us today by using the online form or calling us at (209) 719-1401 to schedule a Free Consultation.

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The Law Office of Eugene Kilbride is committed to answering your questions about Personal Injury and Criminal Law issues in California.

We offer free consultations on personal injury cases and we'll gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.