Felony cases: A Primer

You might think of "felons" as this faraway concept, but you might be surprised at some of the charges that can be filed as felonies in California.

 

Vandalism causing more than $450 worth of damage? That can be a felony.

 

Possession of a concealed "dirk or dagger" (i.e. a knife)? That can be a felony too.

 

Certain offenses, called "wobblers" can be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors depending on whether the DA thinks the incident was on the serious side or if the person had a substantial criminal history.

A felony can have devastating impacts on a person's future. It is much more difficult to find a job after a felony conviction. A felony record will make it much more likely that in the future, arrests will carry greater consequences. Felons are specifically prohibited from possession of certain weapons such as firearms. Felony convictions also negatively impact eligibility for public assistance.

Felonies typically mean you're facing more jail or prison time: a felony is by definition a criminal offense that carries more than a year in possible incarceration.

After the passage of Prop 47, some felonies could no longer send you to prison. Generally, those offenses which do not involve "serious," "violent" or "sex" categories of crime will not be prison eligible. But notably, many charges involving firearms and certain drug offenses are still going to result in prison eligibility, such as maintaining a house for sales, having possession of ammunition while a felon, and felony DUI cases are typically prison eligible.

Cases that are not prison eligible, such as theft crimes, vandalism, or other relatively petty felonies are punishable by long stints in the local county jails. Depending on your perspective on things, this might not be an improvement. Prisons offer certain benefits that the jails do not, such as "yard time," credit-earning opportunities, and potential early release (Prop 57). What's more, while prisons are filled with individuals who are already sentenced and looking forward to their earliest possible release date, jails are teeming with the anxiety of the newly arrested, often angry, sometimes withdrawing off drugs, sometimes very mentally ill who do not yet know their fates. It can be a lot more mentally taxing to do the time in the jail despite the stigmas of prison.

Not every felony case results in prison or jail. Probation may be granted for those who do not have extensive criminal histories, a disqualifying prior, or other aggravating circumstances. The prosecutor isn't obligated to offer a person probation on a felony, but they should do so if the person is a good candidate for it. Probation on a felony is much more rigorous than misdemeanor probation, and can come with any number of terms and conditions set by the judge depending on the plea bargain or recommendation of probation.

Whether a case goes to trial or is plea bargained, one thing the accused is often very worried about is the sentencing (whether they get/avoid prison, jail, or probation). But good lawyers pay close attention to the art of CHARGE bargaining as well. When the DA is willing to let you plead down to significantly less serious charges than what they've filed, this is charge bargaining. A common one is when they will let you take a misdemeanor instead of a felony, or a "non-strike" instead of a crime included in the list of Three Strikes offenses. While those are more abstract concepts than the number of days of jail you're looking at, the charges you are convicted of or not convicted of can have a profound impact on your future. For example, no lawyer worth their salt is going to advise you to plead to a serious "strike" charge that you are not guilty of just to get you out of custody a few days earlier, even if that's what you really, really want. Why? Because if you ever pick up another felony, you're now going to be legally disqualified from any probation consideration and your prison term will be doubled! In laymen's terms, your couple days of county jail just bought you a bunch of prison time if you ever mess up again. No one ever plans to mess up again. The problem is, what you don't plan for.

This is barely scratching the surface of the complexity of felony charges.

 

If you are charged with a felony crime in Shasta County, including the areas of Redding, Anderson, Palo Cedro, Shasta Lake City, Cottonwood, Happy Valley, or if you are in Tehama County (Red Bluff), Trinity County (Weaverville), or nearby counties in the North State area of Northern California, don't delay in seeking the services of a skilled attorney to get you the help you need to protect yourself. I offer a free initial consultation to discuss your situation.