Felony Crimes in California

If you are not familiar with the criminal justice system, we’ll help shed some light on it. Each state has enacted its own laws regarding criminal offenses; in California, our crimes are separated into misdemeanors and felonies, with felonies being the more serious of the two.

Some crimes can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts of the case – these crimes are called “wobblers” in California. Driving under the influence (DUI) is a perfect example of a wobbler: a simple first time DUI is a misdemeanor, but, if the driver injured another person while drunk driving, then it would be a felony.

The punishments for a felony depend on different factors, such as the nature of the crime and the offender’s criminal record. As a standard rule, felonies are punishable by a year or longer in state prison, or by the death penalty.

Examples of felonies in California:

  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Murder
  • Possessing a dangerous drug for sale
  • DUI with serious bodily injury or death

How are felonies processed in the courts?

In California, a felony case goes through four stages: 1) the arrest, 2) the arraignment, 3) the preliminary hearing, and 4) a jury or court trial.

Arrest: The defendant is arrested and taken to jail, then one of three things happens: either the defendant is let go and charges are not filed, the defendant posts bond or bail and is released on their own recognizance, or the defendant remains in custody and is transported to court for their arraignment.

Arraignment: This is the first court appearance for the defendant. During the arraignment, the judge informs the defendant of their charges, their constitutional rights, and their right to an attorney. At this time, the defendant pleads either guilty, not guilty, or no contest (nolo contendere).

Preliminary Hearing: During the preliminary hearing the judge determines if there is sufficient evidence against the defendant. The prosecutor files an information (a legal document), the defendant is arraigned on the information, and the defendant enters their plea and proceeds to trial.

Jury or Court Trial: Under Section 1382 of the California Penal Code, as soon as someone is charged with a felony, they must be tried in court. The trial must begin within 60 days of the defendant being arraigned on the information.

If the defendant chooses, they may waive their right to a speedy trial, meaning, the defendant agrees to have their trial after the 60-day period. Before the trial begins, a jury is selected by the attorneys. Once both sides have presented evidence and their arguments, the jury decides whether or not the defendant is guilty.

If the jury comes back with a not guilty verdict, the defendant is released from custody. Under the law, a defendant cannot be tried twice for the same crime. If the jury finds the defendant guilty as charged, the defendant may be sentenced right away, or the judge may continue the case for sentencing.

If a defendant chooses to have a court trial instead of a jury trial, then the judge, not the jury, would hear the arguments and examine the evidence and decide if the defendant is innocent or guilty.

If you are facing felony charges in Orange County, contact the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc. for a free criminal defense consultation!

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