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Criminal Sentencing in California

In California, the primary goals of the state’s criminal justice system are to: 1) protect the public’s safety, 2) to prevent crime, 3) to punish those who commit crimes, and 4) to help convicted criminals reintegrate back into the community.

If you, or someone you love is facing criminal charges, you will certainly be interested in learning how California classifies crimes, and what the sentencing is for offenses. Here, we will provide a brief overview of the state’s criminal justice system, highlighting California’s basic criminal sentencing laws.

Types of Crimes in California

Under California law, crimes are divided into three categories: felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions, with felonies being the most serious of the three.

Felonies: If you are convicted of a felony, you could be sentenced to state prison, but it depends on the circumstances. If you are not sentenced to state prison, you could be sentenced to county jail, or you could be put on probation where you’re supervised in the community, or you could get probation and county jail.

Under the California Penal Code, certain felonies are classified as serious or violent, and these include assault with the intention to commit robbery, burglary of a home, rape, robbery, and murder.

If you are convicted of a felony, your sentencing would depend on a variety of factors, such as the nature of the crime, your criminal history, and the court’s discretion.

Misdemeanors: These are considered less serious than felonies. With a misdemeanor offense, the offender may be sentenced to county jail, probation, a fine, or a combination of all three. Common misdemeanors are DUI, petty theft, assault, and public drunkenness.

Infractions: These are the least serious of all offenses, and are generally punishable by a fine only. One of the most common infractions is speeding.

Many crimes are “wobblers” in California, which means that prosecutors can charge certain crimes as either a misdemeanor or a felony, it’s up to the prosecutor’s discretion.

Determinate Sentencing for Felonies

In 1976, “determinate sentencing” was enacted for felonies. Under this method, there are three (3) sentence options for each felony offense. For instance, first-degree burglary is punishable by two, four, or six years in prison under California’s determinate sentencing laws.

With determinate sentencing, the court examines the facts of the defendant’s case and their criminal history, and then decides which of the three sentences to impose.

Looking for an Orange County criminal defense attorney? Contact the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc. for a free case evaluation!