In many cases, people who are charged with a felony are not sentenced to jail or prison. That possibility is not realistic in every case, but an experienced California criminal defense attorney will explore all options to avoid a sentence of incarceration.
California law authorizes the court to impose a sentence for a felony conviction. The fact that a sentence is authorized does not necessarily mean that a sentence will be imposed. Unless the law requires a sentence to jail or prison, a judge might instead place the defendant on probation.
A few California felonies require the judge to impose a sentence. Those crimes tend to be the most serious offenses (including murder and some sexual assaults). In addition, the defendant’s criminal history may require the judge to impose a prison sentence. The Three Strike Law is an example of a law that bases a mandatory prison sentence on the defendant’s previous convictions.
Some California felony convictions authorize the judge to sentence the defendant to jail, but not prison, if the judge does not place the defendant on probation. Most of those felonies are “wobblers” (crimes that could have been charged as misdemeanors in the prosecutor’s discretion).
Judges are allowed to impose probation for most California felonies. Probation is a common way of avoiding a sentence.
Defendants who receive probation remain in the community, although a term of jail confinement is sometimes imposed as condition of probation. More common conditions of probation include supervision by a probation agent, refraining from drug use (and alcohol consumption if alcohol played a role in the crime), maintaining employment, and pursuing treatment or counseling programs that will assist rehabilitation.
One way to avoid a felony sentence is to avoid a felony conviction. Plea negotiation will often result in the reduction of a felony charge to a more reasonable misdemeanor charge. That is most likely to happen when the facts of the crime are not particularly serious, when the defendant’s criminal record includes no prior felony convictions, or when the prosecutor realizes that a jury might find that defendant not guilty of the felony.
Misdemeanor convictions still carry the possibility of a jail sentence, but convicted defendants cannot be sent to prison. Judges are also more likely to impose probation for a misdemeanor than a felony.
Some defendants with felony charges are eligible for a deferred adjudication. The defendant usually pleads guilty or no contest to the crime, but conviction is withheld and the defendant is placed on community supervision. If the defendant completes the term of supervision without violating the rules, charges are dismissed.
The most certain way to avoid a jail or prison sentence is to persuade the court to dismiss the charge, or to persuade a jury to find the defendant not guilty. An experienced California criminal defense lawyer can advise defendants whether their best option for avoiding jail is to fight the charge.