FELONIES EXPLAINED

Under Old English law, a felony was any of several crimes in early English law that were punishable by forfeiture of land or goods and by possible loss of life or a bodily part. Today, a felony is defined as a crime which carries a possible sentence of imprisonment for more than one year or the death penalty.

As felonies are presumptively the more serious class of offenses, felony sentences may include probation with fines and up to a year in jail (sometimes this can be modified to a residential drug treatment program), imprisonment in the state prison followed by a period of parole, registration for certain offenses, or for certain homicides might include lifelong incarceration or even the death penalty.

For certain types of offenses, the court can (and sometimes will) reduce the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor; this can happen either before the conviction or even later if the person received a probationary sentence.

We defend clients charged with all felony crimes, ranging from drug crimes, theft-related crimes (such as robbery, burglary, grand larceny), violent crimes (such as assault and murder), and sex crimes (such as rape and child molestation).

What is the process?
If a defendant pleads not guilty to a felony, a preliminary hearing is held. At this hearing the district attorney must show evidence that the defendant committed a felony and should be brought to trial. While this step (or the alternative, a grand jury indictment) is supposed to make sure that only defendants against whom there is significant evidence will undergo a felony trial, the amount of proof introduced at this stage is often quite small.

If the judge decides that the district attorney did not show enough evidence, the charges will be dropped and the defendant will go free. Occasionally, for certain types of charges, the judge at the preliminary hearing will decide that while there was evidence of the offense, a felony prosecution is not warranted and will reduce the offense to a misdemeanor. Most of the time, however, if the judge decides there is enough evidence, the defendant will be arraigned a second time in superior court, where the defendant again will be formally charged, rights will be explained, and a plea will be made.

The Trial
Both felony and misdemeanor cases go to trial only rarely. Most (over 90 percent) are disposed of by defendants' pleas of guilty. Whether the case involves a felony or misdemeanor, the trial follows the same pattern.

First, the district attorney, on behalf of the State of California, files an information (a written charge against a defendant filed in superior court after a preliminary examination) or an indictment (a written accusation presented upon oath by a grand jury that a person has committed a crime).

Not-Guilty Plea: When a defendant enters a plea of not guilty, the case proceeds to trial. The jury is selected, 12 people plus alternate jurors if the trial is expected to be long. At the trial, lawyers on each side of the case may make brief statements (called "opening statements") to the jury, outlining what they expect to prove with the evidence they have.

Presentation of Evidence: Each side then has a turn to present evidence, which can be pictures, objects, documents, or sworn testimony by witnesses. Evidence must have a tendency to prove or disprove the issues in the case. The judge decides if evidence is unreliable based on evidence rules. The evidence rules are intended to ensure that the evidence is reliable.

Objections: During a trial, if attorneys on either side feel that a question asked or evidence offered is improper, they may make objections. The judge may agree or disagree with such objections.

Closing Arguments: After both sides have presented their evidence, each has a chance to present rebuttal, or opposing, evidence. Then both sides of the case give their closing arguments. This is the stage when the attorneys analyze and interpret the evidence that was presented.

Verdict: The judge will instruct the jury on the law that applies to the case. The jury then moves to the jury room to reach a verdict. All 12 jurors must agree on a verdict.
If all twelve jurors agree on a verdict of not guilty, the defendant goes free, and can never be charged with that act again.

If all 12 agree on a verdict of guilty -- although there may first be motions to point out where the evidence was deficient, or errors made -- the court will order a probation report and set the matter for sentencing.

Effective criminal defense is not magic – it is hard work. The best way to successfully navigate serious felony charges is to discuss your situation with an experienced defense lawyer with a passion for protecting the rights and interests of his or her clients. Contact us today for your free consultation.


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