Mandatory Sentencing Requirements
The California legislature moved away from indeterminate sentencing in 1977 to a system of mandatory minimums. The legislature set punishments based on the crime. According to the California Penal Code, sentencing should be uniform and proportionate to the seriousness of the crime.
Even though California decided to use mandatory minimums for criminal convictions, judges still have flexibility when imposing a criminal sentence.
Misdemeanor vs. Felony Charges
The first thing to understand about California mandatory minimums is the difference between sentencing for a misdemeanor conviction and a felony conviction.
Misdemeanor crimes are not as serious as felonies. Therefore, the punishment for a misdemeanor is less severe. The maximum sentence for a misdemeanor conviction in California cannot exceed one year.
On the other hand, felony sentences may include a life sentence without parole. Furthermore, certain felony crimes have a mandatory sentence that judges must use when imposing punishment. However, the sentences in most felony cases fall within a range of possible prison terms.
Some crimes can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. These crimes are known as wobblers. Typically, it is in your best interest to be charged with a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
How Are Felony Sentences Determined in California?
California’s system for deciding sentences in felony cases is based on three set ranges. These ranges list potential prison sentences, including mandatory minimum sentences.
The sentencing ranges are low term, mid term, and high term. The low term is the least amount of time a person can serve for a crime. The high term contains the maximum prison sentence for a criminal conviction.
The judge chooses a range for sentencing based on any mitigating or aggravating circumstances. This arrangement allows judges to consider the specific circumstances of the case when choosing a prison sentence.
Proponents argue that this system allows for defendants to receive punishments that are proportionate to the circumstances as well as the crime. Others argue that using mandatory minimums does not serve the public interest nor deter criminal activity.
How Do Aggravating and Mitigating Factors Impact a Felony Sentence?
When a defendant is found guilty, the judge views aggravating and mitigating factors to determine the range for sentencing.
California Rules of Court Rule 4.421 explain the aggravating factors that a judge might consider when imposing a felony sentence.
Examples of aggravating circumstances include, but are not limited to:
- Whether the crime involved great bodily injury
- If a minor was involved
- Whether the defendant was armed during the commission of the crime
- If the victim was particularly vulnerable
- Whether the crime involved taking or damaging something of great monetary value
- Whether the defendant took advantage of a position of trust to commit the crime
- The defendant’s previous criminal convictions
- The crime constitutes a hate crime under §422.55
Generally, the more aggravating factors present, the harsher the sentence will be for the defendant.
The judge also considers mitigating factors when imposing sentences. California Rules of Court Rule 4.423 explain mitigating factors.
Mitigating factors include, but are not limited to:
- The person played a minor role or was a passive participant in the crime
- The crime was committed because of an unusual circumstance
- The defendant believed he had a right to take the property or believed the conduct was legal
- The defendant participated in the crime because of duress or coercion
- The victim was a willing participant in, initiator, or provoker of the incident
- The defendant was the victim of repeated abuse by the victim
- The defendant has no prior criminal record
- The defendant has made restitution to the victim
- A mental or physical condition reduces the defendant’s culpability for the crime
As a general rule, the more mitigating factors present in a case, the less severe the prison sentence will be for a felony conviction.
Felony Suspended Sentences
In some cases, a judge may suspend a prison sentence in favor of felony probation (formal probation). So instead of serving your time in prison, you are sentenced to supervised probation.
The judge must consider numerous factors to determine if you are eligible for felony probation. California Rules of Court Rule 4.414 outlines the factors used to determine if a person qualifies for felony probation.
If you are eligible, you must serve the entire length of your probation and follow all terms and conditions of probation. If you break the terms of your probation, you are sent to prison to serve the entire term of incarceration.
Will Mandatory Sentences Remain in California?
The Committee on Revision of the Penal Code released its recommendations for 2020. As part of its findings, the Committee recommends ending mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses.
Additionally, a bill to end mandatory jail time for nonviolent drug crimes passed the Senate. It is now with the Assembly. The future of the bill is unknown at this time.
For now, mandatory minimum sentences remain a part of California’s penal code. For that reason, we strongly encourage anyone facing criminal charges to seek legal advice from an experienced criminal defense lawyer. You could face substantial prison sentences, depending on the facts of your case and the nature of your crime.
Contact Our Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer for a Free Consultation
If you are facing criminal charges, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. With over 21 years of criminal law experience, Mr. Rodriguez has a profound understanding of criminal law and defense strategies.
Call our law firm to schedule your free consultation to discuss your case with a seasoned Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer.
Last Updated on August 31, 2021