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The California Felony Process



If you commit a felony in California, you may face multiple years in prison, hefty fines, or a combination of the two. Because of the gravity of a felony conviction, it is important that you understand the California felony process in the event that you are arrested for such a serious crime.

What is a Felony in California?

The California state legislature determines which crimes are misdemeanors and which are felonies. This body of rules and punishments is known as California criminal law.

Felonies are considered more serious crimes against the state than misdemeanors. Crimes that are considered California felonies include:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Burglary
  • Arson
  • Robbery

California Felony Process: Search & Arrest

Before the arrest even takes place, the first stage of the California felony process is the search.

Not every crime will have a search phase to the felony process. For example, a search would not necessarily occur if an officer of the law directly witnesses the crime taking place. In situations where this isnt the case, the police officer will need to get a warrant from a judge to search your property legally.

However, there are certain situations where a warrant is not needed. For example, if you are arrested in your vehicle, an officer will not need a warrant to search your car. If a piece of evidence that you are involved in a crime is out in the open and is completely visible to the officer, no warrant is needed. Also, if you consent to a search, whether it is of your person or your property, than no warrant will be needed.

If, after the search is conducted, the police officer has probable cause then he or she can arrest you. Probable cause means that the officer has a reasonable belief you have committed a crime.

At this point in time, you will be allowed to exercise certain constitutional rights afforded to you. Specifically, you will have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. This appointed attorney is known as a public defender.

You will also have the right to remain silent. This means that you cannot be forced to answer questions from police or investigators. This helps ensure you do not accidentally say something that may incriminate you later on.

California Felony Process: Arraignment & Bail

After your arrest, you will enter the next phase of the California felony process. This phase begins with the arraignment. Arraignment is when the charges against you are read aloud and you have the opportunity to enter your plea.

Prior to entering your plea, you should have had the opportunity to speak with your California criminal defense attorney. Your attorney will help you decide how to plead.

One thing that may determine how you plead is whether your California criminal defense lawyer can come to a plea agreement with the prosecution, the party in charge of proving your guilt. A plea agreement is when you agree to plead guilty to lesser charges as a way to avoid trial and to get a lighter sentence.

Once you enter your plea, the judge will set bail. Bail is an amount of money, or sometimes property, you are required to pay or pledge if you want to be released from custody while you await trial.

California Felony Process: Trial & Appeal

Within 60 days of your arrest, you will be brought to trial. Under California felony laws, you will have the right to a jury trial. However, you may voluntarily waive this right and opt for a bench trial. A bench trial is where a judge makes the determination of guilt.

If you are found guilty, you will have 60 days to file an appeal unless you have been given a death sentence, which automatically triggers an appeal.