Different Levels of Criminal Charges in California: Misdemeanors and Felonies
“Level of charges” in a criminal case refers to whether an offense is classified as a misdemeanor or felony. It is a system for signifying the severity of an offense, where a misdemeanor is less severe than a felony. Both levels carry substantial punishments, including incarceration and fines. But the potential penalties for a felony are more stringent than those for misdemeanors.
Regardless of the level of charge a prosecutor brings upon you, you must go through the justice system to resolve your case. The judicial process for misdemeanors and felonies is similar. However, a few differences exist. In either case, it’s important that you seek legal representation for help fighting your charge if you're accused of any offense.
Have you been charged with a misdemeanor or felony in Santa Rosa? Schedule a free consultation with the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. by calling (707) 418-5352 or submitting an online contact form today.
What Does "Level of Charges" Signify?
Not all crimes are the same. Some are more severe than others. For example, assault is a less serious violent crime than murder. Assault involves attempting to injure someone (California Penal Code § 241). In contrast, murder is the unlawful killing of another person (California Penal Code § 187). Both crimes can lead to harsh penalties. However, the punishments for murder are stricter because the act has graver consequences on another person.
The level of charges is a system for classifying crimes. More serious offenses are charged at higher levels. For the crimes listed in the previous paragraph, assault is a misdemeanor, and murder is a felony.
What Are Misdemeanors?
Misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies. They are typically penalized by one year or less in jail time. A standard misdemeanor is punishable by up to six months in county jail (California Penal Code § 19). A gross misdemeanor is penalized by up to one year (or 364 days) in county jail (California Penal Code § 18.5). Both carry a fine of up to $1,000.
Examples of misdemeanors include the following:
- DUI, and
What Are Felonies?
Most people know that felonies are the most serious crimes a person can commit. Still, few know exactly what constitutes a felony. In general, a felony is any crime punishable by more than one year in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
The following are a few examples of felonies:
- Rape, and
In some cases, the statutes for certain offenses will expressly state the punishments. For example, under California Penal Code § 213, first-degree robbery is punishable by 3, 6, or 9 years in prison. Second-degree robbery carries 2, 3, or 5 years.
In other cases, the statutes may simply state that the offense is a felony or punishable pursuant to California Penal Code § 1170(h). The potential penalties would then include imprisonment for 16 months or 2 or 3 years.
A judge will consider aggravating factors, such as the use of a weapon during the offense, and mitigating factors, such as the defendant’s minor role, to determine the sentence.
What Are Wobblers?
In California, wobblers are criminal offenses that can be classified as either misdemeanors or felonies. The prosecutor decides what level to charge a wobbler based on the case facts.
Wobblers are typically charged as felonies if the defendant has a criminal history or if the offense resulted in serious bodily injury. They may be charged as misdemeanors if the crime is not serious or the defendant does not have a prior criminal record.
What Is the Justice Process Like for Misdemeanors and Felonies?
If you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges, it is important to understand the justice system to prepare yourself for what lies ahead. Generally, the process begins with an arrest. However, if you’re accused of a non-violent misdemeanor, you may instead receive a notice to appear in court on a specific date.
Once law enforcement officials hand their report to the DA's office, a prosecutor will decide what charges to file. If sufficient evidence exists to move forward, they will submit a complaint to the court.
You will then be scheduled for an arraignment, where a judge informs you of your charges and asks for a plea. For a felony charge, you will have a preliminary hearing where the judge will examine the evidence to determine if there is enough to proceed to trial.
If your case goes to trial – whether for a misdemeanor or felony offense – a judge or jury will hear the prosecution’s and defense’s arguments and decide whether you are guilty.
Discuss Your Case During a Free Consultation
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. They can evaluate the allegations and evidence against you to build your case and seek a favorable outcome.
At the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C., we have extensive experience representing clients charged with misdemeanors and felonies in Santa Rosa and the surrounding areas. We recognize what you are going through and can work diligently to protect your rights.
Please contact us by calling (707) 418-5352 today.