What is California Criminal Law?

The basics of criminal law and process in California

The criminal justice system is based on what is good, in theory, for society. All actions determined to be detrimental to society are labeled as a crime and are subject to prosecution under California criminal law.

Defining a Crime in California

Crimes are defined in written statutes at the local, state and federal government levels. Criminal statutes carefully outline what conduct is classified as a crime. The intent and actions required to commit the criminal act and the recommended punishment are all included in the statutes.

The criminal statute both describes the criminal activity and labels the crime. For example, burglary is defined under California criminal law (Penal Code 459 PC) as “entering a structure with the intent to commit a felony (or a petty theft) once inside”. The crime of burglary in California may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the burglary circumstances and the criminal history of the accused. The criminal statute also explains the types of punishment that may be assigned to a crime. For example, if convicted of misdemeanor burglary in California, imprisonment would not exceed one year in county jail. If convicted of felony burglary, you could be facing up to 6 years in state prison.

If you are found guilty of any crime, you are subject to punishment. Fines, probation, imprisonment, and community service are the most common penalties for violating California criminal laws.

The California Criminal Process

Crimes are handled in the jurisdiction, or community, that is affected most by the criminal activity. Generally, that is the place where the crime took place. The criminal process consists of the criminal investigation, arrest for the incident, the criminal charge, prosecution, and, if convicted, the sentencing. Law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, probation officers, judges, corrections officers and criminal defense attorneys all have a role to play in the California criminal justice system.

If you are arrested for, or charged with, a crime you maintain certain rights. These rights provide protection and ensure that you are treated fairly. These rights include protection against unlawful search and seizure and being compelled to testify against yourself, and the guarantee of a speedy trial. A major challenge is ensuring that the your rights are adequately protected. Part of the job of the criminal defense attorney is to ensure that the your rights are protected throughout the criminal process.

The outcome of any criminal matter is determined by a number of factors, including the type of crime, the quality of the evidence, whether proper protocol was followed by the law enforcement agency and the court, and the strategic work of the defense and prosecution. One of several possible outcomes can result from the process that begins with a criminal arrest. In some cases, the criminal investigation can result in no charges being filed. If charges are filed, the case can either later be dismissed or proceed to trial, in which you may be convicted of the crime. Or, you could be found “not guilty” by the jury. You could also opt to enter a guilty plea in exchange for a lighter recommended penalty. It is crucial that you fully understand the implications of each possible outcome in order to make smart decisions about your defense.

In order to understand how the California criminal law process will apply to your own situation, it is important to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney, like the criminal lawyers of Cooper, Cooper & Morris. We are experts in the intricacies of California criminal law and we have the experience to help you navigate the process to an outcome that is the most favorable possible for your situation. Contact us for a free consultation to learn more about how we may be able to help.

phone: 510.558.8400 • fax: 510.558.8401 • Cooper Building, 800 Jones St., Berkeley, CA 94710

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