Every crime is classified as an infraction, misdemeanor or felony. How a crime is categorized is based on the penalties involved. If a crime is punishable by one year or less in jail, the crime is considered a misdemeanor. If the crime is punishable by a year or more in prison, it is considered a felony.
Felonies are the most serious category of crime, and are punishable by a minimum of one year or more in state prison. Some of the more violent offenses are classified as “strike felonies.” With these crimes, if a defendant is committed he could be facing life in prison.
Because of the stakes are high with these crimes, the accused are entitled to a jury trial. It will be necessary for the prosecutor in this instance to prove that there is “probable cause” present or the case can be dismissed. Because the stakes are high with these offenses, it is important that the defendant be represented by an experienced California criminal lawyer.
Misdemeanors are considered serious crimes because of the potential of jail time. Being convicted of a misdemeanor means that you will be required to spend up to one year in jail for each count. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, it will show up on your criminal record.
There is a third category of crimes, called infractions. Infractions are crimes that are punishable by a fine. A good example of this is a traffic ticket
In some states, California included, have crimes that can be considered either a misdemeanor or a felony. These crimes are called wobblers. The particular circumstances of the case will determine how it is classified.
Also, some crimes can be either a misdemeanor or a felony based on whether there are aggravating circumstances involved. For instance, possessing a small amount of marijuana under California law is a misdemeanor, but possession of a large amount of marijuana would be considered a felony. (Read our article on how hashish possession in California can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony.)