In this article, I will discuss what are some of the differences between a Felony case, a Misdemeanor case, and an Infraction in the California court system. First, every crime in California (regardless of whether it is a drug crime, property crime, sex crime, traffic crime, violent crime, or an alcohol crime) will be charged as either a Felony, a Misdemeanor, or an Infraction.
An Infraction is the least serious of the three types of cases as there is no potential for the accused to be incarcerated. In other words, even if you lose the case, the worst thing that could happen would not require that you spend time in either the county jail or state prison. The typical penalty for an infraction (other than the inconvenience of having to contest one) is a fine. However, some infractions are more serious than others because they can involve a much larger fine. In addition, some infractions can result in other penalties that you may find to be more important than a fine, such as having your driver’s license suspended or revoked by either the court judge or the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Hiring an attorney to represent you for an infraction might sound to the uneducated like overkill, but an effective attorney could mean the difference between you losing your license and paying hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars versus paying a much-reduced fine and keeping your license. If the officer who cited you for the infraction made errors in his investigative procedure, an effective attorney may even be able to get your case dismissed.
A Misdemeanor is more serious than an Infraction because a misdemeanor does involve the potential for the accused to be incarcerated. In addition to the fines and other potential penalties discussed above, being found guilty of a misdemeanor may require you to spend up to a maximum of six months to one year in the County Jail for each count alleged. In addition, misdemeanors are considered crimes and will create a criminal record for anyone who is found guilty. Having a criminal record can seriously impact your ability to apply for schools, get a job, or obtain loans.
Because the stakes are higher than an infraction, if you are accused of a misdemeanor, you will have the right to a trial by jury. An effective attorney will know what factors can change the outcome of a jury trial and make a difference between being found “NOT GUILTY” versus being sentenced to the County Jail. An effective attorney will also know the law as it applies to your case, and be able to identify weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case to obtain a favorable outcome.
A Felony is the most serious type of crime, and range in seriousness from some charges that may be reduced to misdemeanors to other charges that are punishable by death. Some serious or violent felonies in California are considered “Strike Felonies,” and may result in the accused being sentenced to life in prison and not be eligible for parole for at least 25 years. Felonies are typically punishable by serving a term in a California State Prison, which are thought by many to be a much less-pleasant place to serve one’s sentence than the County Jail.
Felonies are much more complex than misdemeanors for a number of reasons. One example is that a felony case requires that the prosecutor prove “probable cause” of the accused’s guilt before the case can proceed to a jury trial. If the prosecution cannot convince the judge that there is “probable cause” that you committed the crime(s) alleged, the judge will dismiss your felony case. On the other hand, much of what is said and brought into evidence at the “probable cause” hearing may be admissible as evidence at your jury trial. Thus, being represented by an effective attorney at an early stage of your felony case will make a difference. An effective attorney will know what legal defenses and trial strategies to bring into play at your “probable cause” hearing and what to hold back and apply at your jury trial. An effective attorney will also know the most effective methods to attain a favorable outcome, by negotiating a desirable settlement with the prosecution or securing the strongest possible defenses at your trial.
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