California Criminal Sentencing Rules

by | May 17, 2015 | Criminal Defense
criminal sentening

Making headlines this week was the verdict in the trial of the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  The 21-year old defendant was sentenced to death by lethal injection on Friday by a federal jury.

The verdict was given 2 years after the Boston Marathon bombing that killed 3 people and injured hundreds.

The federal jury’s decision had to be unanimous for the defendant to receive the death penalty.  If not unanimous, his sentence would have resulted in a life sentence with no parole.

The death penalty varies from state to state.  While the majority of states still employ capital punishment, many states have banned it including California.

In 2014 a federal judge in California ruled that California’s death penalty system was declared unconstitutional.  There have been no state executions since 2006.

Criminal Sentencing

Every state has there own laws which designate classes of crimes and assign punishments to each class.  California among some other states fix punishment on a crime-by-crime basis.  In California, misdemeanor crimes are punishable by up to one year in the county jail.  Felonies are punishable by death or incarceration in state prison.

The fixed or structured sentencing scheme that many states use is different in California.  In other states, there is a fixed range of imprisonment from which the judge may choose an appropriate sentence within that range.

With the exception of very serious crimes such as murder (punishable by death or life imprisonment) California lawmakers have created 3 possible sentences including low-term, mid-term and high-term.  The judge must choose one of the 3 terms during sentencing.

Within the California Penal Code you will often see the punishment for each crime drafted with the 3 terms, for example, 2, 4 or 6 years.  If a specific felony does not have set terms then the default is that the felony is punishable by up to 16 months, 2 or 3 years and a possible fine.


In California there are crimes that can be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor.  These crimes that can be charged or sentenced as either a felony or misdemeanor are known as wobblers.

A crime charged as a misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine.  If the crime is charged as a felony, a defendant may still receive a misdemeanor conviction if the prosecution elects to prosecute it as a misdemeanor.

Likewise, the defendant may receive a misdemeanor conviction if the judge sentences the defendant to probation or jail time instead of a prison sentence.

California Three Strikes

In California, defendants who have prior convictions and are charged with a subsequent crime can be sentenced to a longer prison term under the three strikes law.  This concept serves as a sentencing enhancement for repeat offenders.

Legal Assistance

Whatever the charge you are facing it is important to have an experienced and dedicated attorney on your side.  California criminal sentencing can be complicated and have great impact if its three strikes come into play.

It is advantageous to hire an attorney who can negotiate a favorable plea or convey to the court your defense.

The Rodriguez Law Group has the expertise and dedication you deserve.  Attorney Rodriguez is a former prosecutor who has the knowledge and experience to defend your case.

To learn more, call our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm at 213-995-6767 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.