A felony is a criminal offense that carries a sentence of more than one year. A misdemeanor on the other hand carries a maximum of only one year in the county jail. A low grade felony offense such as grand theft, has maximum sentence of up to 3 years in county jail. Other “serious” felonies, carry longer maximum sentences that can result in a state prison time. For example, unarmed robbery carries up to five years and residential burglary up to six years. Aggravated kidnaping, gang related extortion, various sex crimes and murder carry life sentences. Murder with special circumstances can carry the death penalty.
Many persons who are arrested for a felony offense don’t go to the state prison and some can avoid jail completely depending on the strength of the evidence, the nature of the charges and the experience of defense counsel. However, any felony conviction can have devastating long term consequences. Therefore, when arrested or accused of a felony offense it is vitally important to remain silent, grant no interview with the police, and immediately request and contact a criminal law attorney, preferably a certified criminal law specialist.
Most felony arrests, result in a prosecution in Court. However, only the District Attorney can bring felony charges, not the police. The District Attorney must file charges within 48 business hours of the arrest, and the accused must be brought to court within that time period or be released. (California Penal Code, section 825.) Sometimes a D.A. will refuse to file charges, or refer the case for a misdemeanor prosecution, even after a felony arrest.
The first appearance in court after a felony arrest is called an arraignment. At an arraignment, the accused person is advised of the charges, his counsel is provided with the police reports, and a plea of not guilty is entered.
If the accused has not yet bailed out prior to the arraignment, the arraignment judge will set bail or possibly issue a release without the posting of bail (an O.R. release). It is important to obtain an experienced attorney to argue for reasonable bail and to be familiar with the methods to prove community ties and other factors that justify lowered bail or an O.R. release. The arraignment can be a critical stage since the bail decisions of the arraignment judge will be honored by other judges who handle the case later unless a change of circumstances can be demonstrated. Oftentimes the prosecutor will seek to raise bail at the arraignment so counsel must be prepared to argue against such action.
Finally, at the felony arraignment, the case is set for a "PRELIMINARY HEARING", within ten court days. A preliminary hearing is a hearing before a judge who hears testimony from prosecution witnesses. The District Attorney offers those witnesses to prove that there is a "probable cause" factual basis to support the felony charge(s). If the judge finds sufficient proof that the accused committed a felony, the judge sends the matter to a trial court.
The preliminary hearing judge can dismiss the case if there is no probable cause shown. Of paramount importance is the right of defense attorney to cross-examine the D.A.'s witnesses to expose weaknesses in the prosecutor's case. Expert counsel can do great damage to the prosecutor's case at the preliminary hearing. In appropriate cases, experienced counsel will move to suppress illegally seized evidence at the preliminary hearing which can lead to the dismissal of the case.
If the preliminary hearing judge orders the accused to stand trial, the case is sent to a trial court where a second arraignment occurs within 15 days. At the arraignment in the trial court, the accused is again advised of the charges and pre-trial and trial dates are set.
A felony defendant has a right to a jury trial within sixty days of the arraignment in the trial court. Usually one or more pre-trial dates are set within that two month period. At these pre-trial hearings, motions are heard, discovery issues are settled and plea negotiations are had between the D.A. and defense counsel. If the case is not settled by way of a plea bargain, the case proceeds to trial.
On all felony cases, a defendant must be present and has a right to counsel at all stages of the proceedings. At the jury trial, an experienced defense attorney will select a fair jury, make an opening statement, cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses, present defense witnesses if necessary, and present a closing argument. During the trial, experienced trial counsel will object to improper evidence and conduct by the District Attorney. Defense counsel can also request special jury instructions that highlight the law that helps the defense.
On a felony case, a jury of 12 persons must reach a unanimous decision to render a verdict. The jury is always instructed that a guilty verdict requires that the evidence prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Long Beach Criminal Law Specialist Matthew G. Kaestner has been winning serious felony cases for over 30 years. He has successfully defended virtually every type of felony charge from narcotics to special circumstance murder. He has defended hundreds of clients facing life sentences on crimes from three strikes to kidnapping to murder. He is an expert trial lawyer and experienced and savvy negotiator. He treats every client and their family with respect and dignity. Mr. Kaestner believes that tireless hard work is the key to success for every client. For the answer to any question about a felony arrest or charge call Mr. Kaestner directly at (562) 437-0200.