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The Differences Between Misdemeanors and Felonies in California

Offenses in California may be classified as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the severity of the activity involved. The steps a defendant must go through in the justice process will differ based on the level of crime they are charged with. Additionally, the potential penalties will vary, as misdemeanors can lead to a short stint in county jail, whereas felonies can be punished by years, decades, or even life in a state prison.

If you’re facing criminal charges, speak with one of our Newport Beach lawyers at Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC to discuss your case. Call (949) 251-0330 or submit an online contact form today.

The Classifications of Crimes

Not every criminal offense is the same. Some are more serious than others. As such, crimes are classified at different levels according to their severity.

California has three classifications for offenses:

  • Infractions: These are considered to be the least serious and are usually only punishable by a fine.
  • Misdemeanors: These are midway between infractions and felonies in their seriousness. The punishments include a fine and/or incarceration in a county jail.
  • Felonies: These are the most severe crimes and usually involve malicious intent, serious injury, or extreme destruction of property. A conviction can result in a fine and imprisonment. However, rather than confinement in a county jail, the individual is housed in a state prison.

For the purposes of this blog, we will focus on only misdemeanors and felonies.

Examples of Misdemeanors and Felonies in CA

Various offenses may be classified as either misdemeanors or felonies.

Below are a few examples of misdemeanors in California:

  • Assault: Intending and able to commit a violent injury on someone else.
  • Petty theft: Unlawfully taking another person’s property valued at $950 or less.
  • Public intoxication: Being under the influence of alcohol, drugs, and/or controlled substances in a public place.

Examples of felonies include the following:

  • Murder: Unlawfully killing another person with malice aforethought.
  • Rape: Engaging in sexual intercourse without the other person’s voluntary consent.
  • Robbery: Taking someone else’s property by using force or violence.
  • Burglary: Entering an inhabited residence or vessel with the intent to commit theft or a felony.

Deciding How to Charge a Wobbler

Some crimes might be straight misdemeanors or felonies, meaning that they can be charged at only one level or the other. Still, some offenses are wobblers. These can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Typically, the prosecutor decides how to charge the defendant.

Factors they may consider when making the determination include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The crime’s severity
  • Whether the defendant has cooperated in the case,
  • The defendant’s criminal history,
  • The potential for continued criminal conduct, and
  • The strength of the evidence against the defendant.

The Steps in Misdemeanor and Felony Cases

In California, the judicial processes for misdemeanors and felonies start the same, beginning with an arrest, charges being filed, and an arraignment. However, depending on the level of charge, what happens after the arraignment will differ.

With a misdemeanor, the judge will set the case for trial if the defendant pleads not guilty at the arraignment. In contrast, if a defendant pleads not guilty to a felony, they will be scheduled for a preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor must prove that enough evidence exists to establish probable cause that the defendant was the one who committed the crime. If the judge determines that the evidence is sufficient, the defendant will be arraigned again in a Superior Court.

All subsequent stages in the process are similar for misdemeanors and felonies.

The Differences in Criminal Penalties

The criminal repercussions for misdemeanors and felonies in California are significant, ranging from short-term jail sentences to very long prison terms. A defendant can be sentenced to county jail for up to 6 months for a standard misdemeanor. For a gross misdemeanor, the maximum term is 1 year. In both cases, a fine of up to $1,000 may also be imposed.

Felonies come with more stringent penalties. Prison sentences of at least 1 year may be rendered. In some cases, defendants may be ordered to life imprisonment or death. The fine for felonies is a maximum of $10,000.

Schedule a Consultation Today

California crimes are classified as misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies and can carry a maximum jail term of either 6 months or 1 year. In contrast, felonies can be penalized by 1 year or more. If you have been accused of an offense, seeking legal assistance is important to protect your rights. A criminal defense lawyer can also help fight charges and pursue an optimal result that could allow you to avoid or minimize penalties.

To speak with one of our Newport Beach attorneys, contact Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC at (949) 251-0330.