California Sentencing Guidelines

All-Pro Bail Bonds HatA misdemeanor is a lower grade of a criminal offense. Examples of misdemeanors include a first DUI (provided no one is injured), shoplifting low-value items, trespassing, and vandalism. The penalties for misdemeanors usually do not involve incarceration – small fines, probation, community service, and mandatory counseling are more common. If incarceration is assigned it will be in county jail and for a period of no longer than one year. Misdemeanors are much easier to later have expunged or sealed from your record.

Felonies are more serious criminal charges. These include assault, burglary, armed robbery, theft of high-value items, multiple DUIs (or DUIs where serious injury or death was caused), and trafficking in illegal drugs. These charges will be punished by at least a year in state prison. Other consequences of a felony conviction include the loss of voting rights, being disallowed from holding public office, loss of firearm ownership rights, disqualification from jury service for a period of seven years, and possible loss of professional license depending on circumstances.

How Are Felony Sentences Determined?

Some laws assign mandatory minimum penalties for certain crimes. Some will allow the judge flexibility in how they determine the sentence. California makes flexible sentences fairly straightforward with three distinct tiers – low-term, mid-term, and high-term. Each carries its own prescribed penalties which the judge cannot change. A judge will look at mitigating factors to determine what term a defendant should be sentenced to. Mitigating factors can include a clean criminal record, honorable military service, unusual stress in your life at the time of the crime, and a lack of damage to any other people or their property. Aggravating factors can also play a role in determining the term of sentence, however. The prosecution will look into your background and highlight factors that put you in a more negative light, such as a history of similar criminal behavior or a lack of any moral justification for the crime.

The Three Strikes Law

California voters approved a “three strikes law” for the state in 1994 in response to the highly publicized abduction and murder of two young girls. The three-strikes law previously stipulated that upon a third felony conviction in the state, a defendant who had one prior major felony would receive double the normal sentence for their crime and a defendant who had two prior convictions of any type (even misdemeanors) would receive an automatic sentence of 25 years to life upon a felony conviction.

In 2012, California voters approved Proposition 36 (the “Three Strikes Reform Act”) which softened the circumstances required to receive the 25-to-life sentence. The third offense felony must now be serious or violent in nature for the defendant to qualify for the 25-to-life sentence with two prior convictions on their record. Defendants currently serving a third strike sentence were also allowed to appeal that sentence if they fall under the same circumstances.

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