Felonies, Misdemeanors, and Infractions

The California CodesWhen a bill is approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, it becomes part of the voluminous set of rules, regulations, and restrictions that make up California law. These laws are divided into 29 codes, major groupings that cover everything from food and agriculture to revenue and taxation, and insurance and finance to harbors and navigation.

Some of these codes specify what the government will do - like provide public eduction. Others regulate the processes used in manufacturing. Still others provide protection to wildlife. The types of laws are as varied as the society they govern.

Criminal Law
Criminal law is concerned with the codes that say what people can and cannot do in their interactions with other members of society. The State of California, however, doesn't group all of these rules into one criminal code. Instead, criminal laws are dispersed throughout a variety of the 29 major code categories - though most are found in the Penal Code, the Health and Safety Code, the Vehicle Code, and the Business and Professions Code. If you are arrested by the police, the charges brought filed against you by the district attorney's office will most likely come from one of these four categories.

Felonies · Misdemeanors · Infractions
Each criminal violation can be either a felony, misdemeanor, or infraction.
  • An infraction - for example, a citation for littering or a traffic ticket - is the least serious, usually coming with a fine up to $250 and no time in jail.
  • A misdemeanor is more serious, carrying some combination of a fine up to $1000, jail time up to one year, work project, probation, or counseling. First time DUI, petty theft, simple battery, and reckless driving are examples.
  • A felony is the most serious and can come with state prison terms of 16 months or more, county jail time up to a year plus probation, and/or severe fines. The death penalty is even a possibility in extreme cases.
Some crimes are categorized as "wobblers," which means that they can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of the crime. Examples include vandalism, DUI, and theft.

Sentencing Guidelines
In terms of sentences that result from convictions, two factors can lead to substantially increased penalties. First, after someone is found guilty of a felony, a judge will look to the California Determinant Sentencing Laws, which lay out sentencing options for each crime. Judges may choose from high, middle, and low options - depending on the circumstances of the case. Second, California Penal Code 667 - the Three Strikes Law - substantially increases the penalties for felonies under certain conditions. For example, the amount of credit for time served that may be earned can be reduced following a second felony conviction. Also, a third felony with two prior strikes can result in a sentence of 25 years to life without the possibility of parole.

Free and Confidential Consultation
If you have questions about the differences between felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions - or want to discuss charges that you are facing - call me at (916) 442-1200 for a free and confidential consultation.