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Felonies, Misdemeanors, and Infractions in California

Posted on in Criminal Defense

San Jose criminal defense lawyer, felonies, misdemeanorsIn California, crimes are categorized depending on the nature and severity of the unlawful act as either felonies, misdemeanors, or infractions. These categorizes are defined under California’s Penal Code as follows:

  • Felonies: Crimes that are punishable with death or by imprisonment in the state prison system, or by imprisonment in county jail under section 1170(h) of the Penal Code.
  • Misdemeanors: Crimes that carry a maximum sentence of one year in county jail.
  • Infractions: Crimes that are punishable by a maximum fine of $250 and that do not subject the offender to incarceration or probation.

In other words, infarctions generally cover traffic offenses and other minor crimes. Misdemeanors are crimes that can not be punished by more than one year in jail. Felonies are serious crimes for which an offender can be sentenced to more than a year in prison or even to death. These classifications are fairly straightforward; however, in California we also have what is known as “wobblers.”

Wobblers: Crimes that Can be Charged as Either Misdemeanors or Felonies

A wobbler is a criminal offense that can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or as a felony. For these crimes it is within the prosecutor’s discretion whether they will try the offense as a misdemeanor or as a felony. The prosecutor makes this decision based on both the facts of the case and on the defendant’s criminal history. There are several wobbler offenses in California, but some common examples include:

  • Sexual battery;
  • Burglary;
  • Assault with a deadly weapon; and
  • Grand theft.

Because wobbler crimes sit on the fence that divides felonies from misdemeanors, in the interest of fairness there are some circumstances under which a California judge will reduce a wobbler felony conviction to a misdemeanor.

Reducing Felony Convictions to Misdemeanors in California

It is important to know that in California some felony offenses can be reduced to misdemeanors if the right circumstances are present. For example, under the California Penal Code section section 17(b), wobbler felony convictions can be reduced to misdemeanors if the following two requirements are met:

  1. The defendant was convicted of a wobbler crime as a felony; and
  2. The defendant was sentenced to felony probation for the offense.

If the two requirements listed above are met, a judge in California has the power to reduce a wobbler felony to a misdemeanor offense after the preliminary hearing has concluded, at sentencing, or after the offender has been sentenced and has completed his or her felony probation. Regardless of when a judge is asked to grant a Penal Code 17(b) felony reduction, he or she will take the same factors into account when making his or her decision. These factors include the nature and severity of the offense, the facts of the case, whether or not the offender has complied with the terms of their probation, the offender’s criminal history, and the offender’s personal history. All relevant mitigating and aggravating factors will be taken into consideration and weighed by the presiding judge.

Need Legal Advice?

If you have been charged with a crime in California, contact an experienced San Jose criminal defense lawyer at Jachimowicz Law Group today. Our firm fights for the rights of clients throughout the Bay Area and Monterey Bay and would be happy to fight for you.


http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PEN&sectionNum=17 .






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