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CA Misdemeanor and Felony Penalties


There are two kinds of criminal cases:

Felonies, punishable by over a year in jail or prison and

Misdemeanors, punished by less than a year in jail.

The maximum sentence on a misdemeanor was changed to 364 days to help with Immigration consequences.

An “Aggravated Felony” for Immigration consequence is punishable by 1 year or more, in jail/prison. At present, Misdemeanors are removed from the Aggravated Felony category.

Low level Felonies are generally punished by 16 months 2 years or 3 years in jail.

More serious felonies are punished by Prison time and increased sentences.

Each sentence has three terms or lengths, Low, Middle and High. Middle is the default. Arguments are made by the prosecutor to push the case to the High term and by the defense to push it to the Low term.

Some Felonies are “Strikes”. Strikes are serious or violent crimes a conviction of which will result in more time in Prison, in addition to the primary sentence.

Non-Strike felons do 50% time, Strike felons do 80 or 85% or their time.

If convicted of a second Felony. a Strike Prior requires doubling the time.

A Conviction of a third Felonious Strike requires a 25 years to Life Sentence.

Three Strikes and you’re out.  This has been made less harsh by Prop. 36 which requires the Strikes/Priors to be serious and allows commutation of sentence if they are not.

Someone facing Prison on a Strike needs to have a Romero Motion made. A Romero Motion asks the Court to remove the prior strikes so that they don’t count towards the sentence in the present case. I’ve used Romero motions to reduce sentences for my clients.


In addition to jail and/or Prison, Misdemeanors and Felonies can require the person to be on Probation or Parole.

Misdemeanor Probation is non-reporting Probation.

Felony Probation is where you report to a Probation Officer. There can be additional terms of probation, like search and seizure or drug testing.

Parole and its brother, Community Release, are for people who’ve gotten straight Prison sentences.  After release they usually have to report to Parole for three years or they can be placed on Community Release for a like period.


The Court can also order the payment of Fines as punishment.

Misdemeanor Fines are usually up to $1000.

Felony fines can be up to $10000. In addition the Court is mandated to add penalty assessments and costs which bump the fines up as much as 5 times.


The Court can order that a person convicted of a crime pay the victim Restitution. There are really only two rules on Restitution:

  1. The person must be a direct victim of the crime. And
  2. The restitution must be for actual losses and not pain and suffering or emotional distress.

Restitution is usually made a condition of Probation and failure to pay the Restitution can result in a Probation Violation.  If the restitution is not paid off by the end of Probation it is reduced to a civil judgment which will effect your credit forever and is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.  Failure to pay Restitution can also stop you from getting relief like Expungement’ or a Certificate of Rehabilitation.

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