Criminal Law Questions
Felonies are the most serious crimes you can be charged with in California. Misdemeanors are crimes that are punished by no more than a year in the county jail. Some crimes can be charged as both felonies and misdemeanors. Those crimes are called “wobblers”. For example, the crime of vandalism, can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony if the value of the damage is over $900.00.
The potential penalty for each crime is defined in the penal code. In general, the court can sentence someone to any sentence that is outlined in the penal code so long is it doesn’t exceed the maximum. For example, the crime of felony burglary of a commercial building (2d degree burglary) carries a potential sentence of county jail up to 1 year and probation, 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in state prison. The court can choose any one of those sentences based on the individuals criminal record and background.
Once arrested, you should contact an attorney. The court will appoint an attorney to represent you if you cannot afford one. Otherwise, you’ll need to contact a private attorney to assist you with the case. Above all, you should not talk with the police without an attorney present. Often people believe they will improve their situation by explaining their side of what happened. This may be true, however, an attorney is best able to evaluate whether or not what you have to say will help you. It is almost NEVER advisable to speak with law enforcement before speaking with an attorney, be it a private attorney or public defender.
Once arrested you will either be released on your own recognizance or bail will be set. If released on your own recognizance you will be released without having to pay money and with a future date to appear in court. Bail is an amount of money you must pay to be released from jail to ensure that you will return to court. You can pay the entire amount in cash (which will be returned at the end of your case) or you can contact a bail bondsman who will charge you a fee (usually 10%) to pay the bail for you. The fee that you pay the bondsman is nonrefundable. Also, the bondsman usually will want the bail to be secured with some form of property. Additionally, you can pay an undertaking. An undertaking is a process by which you sign title to property over to the court (usually a home) that is double the value of the bail. There is a nominal non-refundable fee for an undertaking. When the case is over the property is returned to you.
If you are charge with a crime you should consult with an attorney to represent you. As the saying goes, “A man who represents himself has a fool for a client.” (Abraham Lincoln)
There are many rights associated with being a suspect of a crime. First and foremost, you can assert your right to remain silent. If the police show up at your door to question you about a crime, you do not have to talk to them. You may think that you can talk your way out of being arrested, but this is rarely the case. The police are not there to help you in this situation. They have decided that you committed a crime and are there to gather evidence against you. If this happens, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.
If you are convicted of a misdemeanor and some felonies, you may be able to have your record cleared. Some convictions can be modified on your record so that when you apply for most jobs, you can legally indicate that you were not convicted of that crime. Others may be reduced from a felony to misdemeanor. Also, individuals who have completed a term in prison may be eligible for a Certificate of Rehabilitation and in some cases a pardon. In addition, if you are a Veteran who acquired a criminal record due to a mental health disorder stemming from service in the United States military and you have successfully participated in court-ordered treatment and services to address your trauma you may qualify for early termination of probation and ultimately a dismissal.
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