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  • Writer's pictureBlair Goss

What Is the Lowest Felony Charge in California? | Goss Law

The state of California categorizes criminal offenses into various levels of severity. At the bottom of the hierarchy are misdemeanors. Such crimes carry less lenient penalties.


Above them are violent felonies, which are more serious crimes. They often result in significant consequences, such as an extended state prison sentence.


Many people wonder if there's a "lowest" felony charge under California law. The least serious felony conviction is a wobbler. This can be reduced to a misdemeanor sentence if the judge grants it.


Many states (not California) divide felonies into classes, including Class A, B, etc. They may also use a numbering system, such as one, two, three, and more up to six. California assigns punishments to each crime depending on their severity instead.


Straight Felony Conviction Vs. Wobbler Felony Conviction

Straight Felony Conviction Vs. Wobbler Felony Conviction


There's no one-size-fits-all scenario for felony convictions under California law. The legal system in the Golden State recognizes two categories: straight and wobbler offenses.


Straight Felonies

When the court convicts someone of a straight felony, the consequences are clear and substantial. The penalties can result in lengthy state prison time, hefty fines, and a lifelong impact on their criminal record.


According to the California Penal Code (1170), the state also has a "Three Strikes" rule for judging straight felonies. Such crimes may include the following:

  • Attempted murder

  • Murder

  • Rape

  • Robbery

  • Vehicular manslaughter

  • Carjacking

  • Kidnapping

It is impossible to reduce serious or violent felonies (straight) to a misdemeanor sentence.


Wobbler Felonies

On the other hand, wobbler offenses introduce an element of flexibility into the legal equation. The judge can recognize such crimes as either a felony or a misdemeanor. There's a lot of leeway here.


However, the classification depends on the discretion of the court. Several factors can influence the judge's decision, such as:

  • The nature and seriousness of the crime.

  • Also, the defendant's prior convictions.

  • Any aggravating or mitigating circumstances surrounding the crime.

Wobbler convictions, when classified as misdemeanors, may lead to county jail sentences and lesser fines. It will still impact the defendant's criminal record, but it has a better chance of expungement in the future.


A few examples of wobbler offenses include forgery, grand theft, vandalism, sexual battery, domestic violence, etc.


Penalties for Felony Crimes in California


Felony crimes are among the most serious offenses under California law. Fines can be a substantial part of the penalties. The amount can vary depending on the specific felony offense. It can be as high as $10,000.


The most profound impact of a felony crime includes long-term county jail or state prison sentences. Both are daunting, with different categories determining the imprisonment length:

  • Low term: Sentences following a low term extend to two years. It's the least severe punishment.

  • Middle term: These sentences span four years.

  • High term: Lastly, high-term sentences are the most severe, resulting in six years of imprisonment.

However, a felony statute may not always have the terms written in stone. The judge might refer to California Penal Code 1170(h) in this event.


Afterward, the court will consider the defendant's background and circumstances of the felony crimes. It may sentence the criminal to the following new terms for imprisonment:

  • 16 months

  • Two years

  • Three years

Given the potential consequences of felony convictions in California, having adequate legal representation is crucial.


Therefore, an experienced criminal defense attorney can work to mitigate charges and negotiate sentences. Skilled legal counsel can make a world of difference in a case's outcome.


How Does Felony Probation Work? A Closer Look at Supervised Release


Felony probation is a legal arrangement that lets convicted defendants complete their sentences through community service hours.


The criminals remain under close supervision the entire time, but they don't have to serve county jail or state prison time.


However, the judge will only grant probation under a few terms and conditions everyone must follow. The following points promote rehabilitation and protect the community:


Regular Check-ins

Probationers must meet with their probation officer(s) at scheduled intervals. They are also not allowed to leave the state until they complete probation.


Drug and Alcohol Testing

Criminals on probation must agree to random drug and alcohol testing. This helps the officer know if the defendant is following the rules. Also, they may have to participate in rehabilitation programs, such as anger management counseling.


No New Arrests

Probationers must refrain from committing new criminal offenses during the period.


The felony probation period is not without consequences. In this case, the court can revoke probation for anyone who doesn't comply with the rules. The judge can also punish the criminal by assigning a maximum jail sentence.


However, it is possible for the court to let the probation violation slide only if there is a good reason behind the action.


There are many benefits of probation. It lets ex-convicts re-enter society, maintain employment, and seek counseling for personal issues. Successfully completing this period also shows dedication and the desire to become a better person.


Is It Possible to Reduce a Felony to a Misdemeanor Crime?


A misdemeanor carries less severe punishments than a felony crime. However, it's not easy to reduce a serious or violent felony to a simple misdemeanor. Expungement is even more complicated.


Reducing a felony crime to a misdemeanor depends on the following factors:

  • The specifics of the wobbler case.

  • Also, the defendant's criminal history and background.

  • Compliance with probation or parole terms.

  • Successful rehabilitation efforts and behavior post-conviction.

Some felony offenses cannot be reduced to misdemeanors or expunged from the record. Crimes like rape, murder, vehicular manslaughter, etc., are serious offenses.


The law does not allow expungement for the above-mentioned felonies to protect communities.


However, petty theft, vandalism, and other wobbler offenses may be eligible for reduction or expungement. The crime will no longer appear on the record after successful expungement.


Police officers and investigative teams may still have access to the history and see crime details before they were erased. Employers and landlords will not be able to see it.


How Long Do Criminals Have to Serve in County Jail for Misdemeanors?


The specific length of a jail sentence for a felony crime depends on various factors. It includes the nature of the offense and the defendant's criminal history.


Judges consider these factors when determining the appropriate felony sentence. The court may refer to the felony sentencing guidelines according to the California Penal Code 1170.


Inmates convicted of a felony in county jail are often eligible for good behavior credits. The points can reduce the actual time they serve in jail.


A criminal defense attorney who understands how the felony sentencing guidelines work can help defendants.


California felony conviction cases are difficult to maneuver alone. Also, according to Penal Code 667, repeat offenders with prior convictions (more than one strike) may have to serve double sentences.


A Sacramento criminal defense law firm can also help the accused understand criminal statutes and different felony charges.


Common Penal Codes in California


Anyone serving a felony sentence can refer to the following guidelines to understand which penal code section the court is punishing them under:

However, under Penal Code 995 (motion to dismiss), the defendant can present their case to the preliminary hearing judge. They must do so before the trial.


The judge can dismiss the case if the court doesn't find enough evidence against the convicted during the sentencing hearing.


Lawyers Can Help Defendants Navigate Felonies in California

Lawyers Can Help Defendants Navigate Felonies in California


Attorneys have an in-depth understanding of criminal laws. They know the differences between felony charges and misdemeanors.


Lawyers can also assess the specifics of each case. This includes the nature of the felony. Their expert evaluation helps determine the most effective defense strategy. They can also help with questions like Can a felony be dismissed in California?


On top of that, attorneys can analyze evidence. They can represent defendants in court, present the case, and cross-examine witnesses.


Legal counsel can collect proof regarding continuous rehabilitation to influence sentencing decisions. This can potentially reduce the severity of the punishments.


In the event of unfavorable outcomes, attorneys can file appeals and try to overturn convictions. They can also help people pursue expungement for eligible offenses. This provides them a path toward a cleaner record and increased opportunities.


Lastly, legal professionals offer emotional support and guidance to defendants. They help people understand the system and how to navigate it without risking collateral consequences.


Final Words


Felonies in California can have serious consequences for the defendant. The judge can punish the convicted with prison or county jail time if found guilty. Goss Law can assist with answering questions like Can a first time felon get probation California?


Misdemeanors are the lowest charges in the Golden State. Defendants can also try to have them expunged at some point. However, serious or violent felonies cannot be reduced to misdemeanors or be erased from the record.


Qualified criminal defense lawyers can provide guidance and advocate for alternative sentencing options.


California's legal system allows for a certain level of flexibility in sentencing. However, only an attorney can help the defendant understand which felonies qualify as wobbler offenses. Potential expungement and reductions can positively impact a person's life and future opportunities.

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