Whether you’re charged with an infraction, misdemeanor, or a felony, I’m here to ensure you, that you are still entitled to certain rights. With nearly two decades of experience, I get it. Charges can be frightening, stressful, and/or confusing. Hopefully, in this blog, I can help shine a little light on the difference – for further info, however, please do not hesitate to contact me today.
Infraction, Misdemeanor, Felony, Wobbler, & Wobblette
What’s the difference between infractions, misdemeanors, felonies, wobblers, and wobblettes?
- Infraction) Infractions are violations of the law, however, unlike misdemeanors and felonies, they’re not considered “crimes,” thus they don’t expose individuals to jail time, probation, or cause one to lose their immigration status. Rather, they’re usually punishable by a fine (still no fun). Examples of an infraction include your everyday traffic and moving violations.
- Misdemeanor) More serious than an infraction, a misdemeanor is a crime with a maximum sentence of no more than one (1) year in county jail. More specifically, misdemeanors fall under two categories in California: Standard and Gross/Aggravated. Standard misdemeanors are punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine. Conversely, a gross/aggravated misdemeanor, is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or a fine of $1,000+. Examples of standard misdemeanors include: (1) Drug Offenses (California Health and Safety Code Section 11350) and (2) Shoplifting (Penal Code Section 459.5). Examples of gross/aggravated misdemeanors include: (1) DUI without injury (Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) and (b)), (2) Domestic Battery (Penal Code Section 243(e)(1)), and (3) Violating a Restraining Order (Penal Code Section 273.6).
- Felony) More serious than a misdemeanor, a felony is a crime punishable by more than one (1) year imprisonment, including death – and/or a fine up to $10,000. If the felony offender is granted formal (felony) probation, however, they will have to serve at most, one (1) year in county jail. As presented below, some felonies can be reduced to a misdemeanor – more serious felonies that cannot be reduced, however, are known as straight felonies. Examples of a straight felony include: (1) Murder (Penal Code Section 187), (2) First Degree Burglary (Penal Code Section 459), (3) Sale of a Controlled Substance (Health and Safety Code Section 11352), (4) Rape (Penal Code Section 261), (5) Lewd Act with a Child Under 14 (Penal Code Section 288), and (6) Vehicular Manslaughter with Gross Negligence (Penal Code Section 192(c)).
- Wobbler) Crimes that can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor are known as wobbler offenses. In determining whether to file a felony or a misdemeanor, the prosecutor may consider the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. Examples of wobbler offenses include: (1) Vandalism (Penal Code Section 594), (2) Domestic Violence (Penal Code Section 273.5), and (3) Assault with a Deadly Weapon (Penal Code Section 245(a)(1)).
- Wobblette) Crimes that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or an infraction are known as wobblettes. Examples include: (1) Disturbing the Peace (Penal Code Section 415) and (2) Criminal Trespass (Penal Code Section 602).
First, although infractions are punishable by fines, the accused has a right to contest it before a judge.
Second, in respect to misdemeanors and felonies, after the accused is arrested, they have an arraignment (generally within 48 hours), where the court reads the defendant his/her charges and he/she has an opportunity to enter a plea (I.e. guilty, not guilty, or no contest). If they enter a guilty or no contest plea, then their case moves to sentencing to determine their punishment. If they plea not guilty, though, it will proceed to the judge addressing bail (if the defendant is in custody) and then the “Pre-Trial Process.” Pre-trial refers to all proceedings that take place between arraignment and trial, including court appearances, discovery (exchange of relevant information), motions (asking the court to make a certain decision/ruling), plea bargains, and negotiations. Generally, in a misdemeanor, these hearings are referred to as a Trial Ready Conference (TRC) and for felonies it’s called a Felony Settlement Conference (FSC). Most cases are resolved during the pre-trial stage, however, if it’s not, the case can proceed to a jury trial or a bench trial (there’s no jury, only a judge under the latter).
At a jury trial, after both sides partake in jury selection, the prosecution and defense will give their opening statements, introducing the case and where they’re going to take it. Then, the attorneys will present their evidence, with the prosecution trying to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is followed by the parties’ closing arguments, jury deliberations, and verdict. If a guilty verdict is found, then the defendant is sentenced.
Note, although the court process is similar for misdemeanors and felonies, felonies include two additional stages: (1) Preliminary Hearings and (2) Information – Second Arraignment. The preliminary hearing, which takes place after the arraignment, is when the prosecutor must show there is “Probable Cause” to believe a crime was committed by the defendant. If probable cause is found, a second arraignment is held (generally within 15 days) – known as the information arraignment – where the defendant enters a plea on the charges that were found to be supported by probable cause.
Finally, if a defendant doesn’t agree with the outcome of the trial, then they can appeal their verdict. An appeal isn’t a new trial. Rather, it’s a request that the appellate judge reviews the trial court’s decision for such mistakes as there being insufficient evidence, misconduct (by the jury, prosecution, and/or judge), or ineffective assistance of counsel. If no mistake is found, the appellate court can affirm the trial court’s verdict. If, however, a mistake is found, they can overturn and remand it to the trial court for new proceedings.
To learn more, contact me today.