Class 4 Felonies in California
If you or someone you love has been charged with a felony, you may wonder about the class of felony and the potential penalties involved. You may have heard about different classes of felonies and are curious about, for example, Class 4 felonies in California. After all, criminal law in California is anything but straightforward. There are infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. But there are also “wobblers,” which are crimes that can be charged as either an infraction or a misdemeanor, or as either a misdemeanor or a felony. It’s no surprise that there’s confusion about Class 4 felonies in California – particularly because Class 4 felonies in California don’t exist.
How States Categorize Felonies
States classify felonies in a variety of ways. For example, there are several states that categorize felonies as A, B, C, or D. Some states categorize felonies as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6, with 1 being the most serious and 6 being the least serious. Others categorize felonies according to degree, namely first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree. Some states use combined numbering and lettering systems, while others have adopted their own unique systems.
Some states – including California – don’t use a classification system at all. Instead, each crime has its own penalty.
Felony Crimes in California
The Criminal Justice Realignment Act of 2011 changed some aspects of felony sentencing. The primary change shifted those convicted of a felony but not granted probation from the state prison system to the county jail system.
Under realignment, there are three basic groups of felonies. The least worrisome are those considered not serious, not violent, and not related to sex crimes. If the state categorized felonies in a more traditional way, these might be considered Class 4 felonies in California. They are often referred to as 1170(h) crimes, named after the California Penal Code section that governs sentencing. Unless the law provides for a different sentence for a particular crime, 1170(h) felonies carry a county jail sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years.
There are a multitude of felonies that fall into the 1170(h) crime category. In fact, there are more than 500 crimes in this category that can result in county jail time. That’s why, if you have been accused of or arrested for a felony in California, it’s imperative that you contact a Bay Area criminal defense attorney immediately. When you have an experienced Bay Area criminal defense lawyer by your side, you can be protected from self-incrimination and you have the best possible chance of avoiding jail or prison.
Examples of felonies that are punishable by time in county jail are:
Business and Professions Code violations: Selling, buying, or using fraudulent health-related degrees; kickbacks for patient referrals; ambulance-chasing by attorneys; and travel agents failing to use an escrow account for passenger travel funds.
Civil Code violations: Foreclosure consultants demanding payment before services are rendered; and not recording a real estate sales contract.
Corporations Code violations: Fraud by a corporate director, officer, or agent; presenting fraudulent books to an investigator; and selling securities using false statements or by omitting material facts.
Elections Code violations: Voter fraud; bribing a candidate to get them to withdraw from a race; and making or using fake ballots.
Financial Code violations: Deceptive savings association financial records; bribing someone at a savings institution; and asking for or receiving a bribe as a credit union officer.
Fish and Game Code violation: Using gill nets to catch salmon, steelhead, or striped bass.
Food and Agriculture Code violations: Selling uninspected meat; forging official meat-related certificates; and bribing food inspectors.
Government Code violations: Perjuring yourself while taking an oath of office; selling bonds without permission; and destroying or altering court records.
Harbors and Navigation Code violations: Willfully sinking a boat that weighs at least ten tons; sinking a ship or its cargo for the purpose of fraud; and creating a fraudulent manifest.
Health and Safety Code violations: Prescribing an unnecessary drug to an addict; soliciting an unlawful prescription; and fraudulently obtaining controlled substances.
Penal Code violations: There are hundreds of 1170(h) felonies in California’s penal code. Some examples are:
Crimes against Public Justice:
• Promising a certain outcome as a juror
• Escaping or helping a prisoner escape from a county hospital
• Creating, selling, or using fake citizenship documents
• Making false statements under oath
• If you’ve been convicted of a sex offense, revealing the name and address of the victim to another prisoner with the intent to harass the victim
• Threatening a witness with injury
• Pretending to be an officer and arresting, intimidating, or searching someone
Crimes against People:
• Manslaughter while operating a boat with gross negligence while committing a minor crime
• Involuntary manslaughter while committing a minor crime
• Assault on an elected official, judicial officer, juror, or police officer
• Damaging or derailing a train by obstructing the tracks
• Throwing rocks at an 18-wheeler
• False imprisonment
• Assault against a custodial officer or peace officer
• Assault against a juror
• Battery against a custodial officer, peace officer, firefighter, EMT, lifeguard, process servicer, or animal control officer
• Assault using a stun gun
• Hazing that results in death or serious bodily injury
• Firing a gun with gross negligence and that could result in serious injury or death
• Willfully pointing a laser at an airplane while it’s in the air
• Forced marriage
• Deserting a child under the age of 14
• Second conviction for violating a protective order
• Hiding a child from their legal custodian
• Using sex offender registrant information to commit a felony
• Promoting the sale or distribution of obscene material
• Bribing an athlete to throw a game
• Accepting a bribe to throw a game
• Caretakers stealing from elders
• Dumping hazardous waste
Crimes against Property:
• Possessing flammable material or an incendiary device with the intent to set fire to a structure or forest
• Second degree burglary
• Second degree burglary or grand theft in an area under evacuation or a state of emergency
• Breaking into a safe by using dynamite, acetylene torch, or other device
• Kiting checks
• Counterfeiting gold
• Fraudulently failing to return leased or rented property
• Diverting construction funds
• Grand theft
• Stealing livestock
• Buying a stolen vehicle
• Stealing an airplane
• Extortion that’s not robbery or carjacking
• Installing computer ransomware
• Impersonating someone else
• Buying or selling valuable property that’s had its serial number removed
• Vandalism with $400 or more in damage
• Vandalism of a place of worship
These are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s important to note that although 1170(h) felonies are considered the least egregious types of felonies – the equivalent of Class 4 felonies in California – they can still result in serious jail time. Even 1170(h) felonies can lead to a state prison sentence if the person convicted has a previous felony conviction for any of more than 40 different crimes. These include:
• Murder, attempted murder, or voluntary manslaughter
• Rape, sexual abuse, or child molestation
• Assault with a deadly weapon
• First degree burglary
• Bank robbery
• Victim intimidation
In addition, state prison is mandated for anyone required to register as a sex offender or anyone who was convicted of using a firearm or other deadly weapon in the commission of a crime. The same holds true for anyone who previously received a sentence enhancement for aggravated theft.
Alternatives to County Jail Time
While these lesser felonies either specify a triad of potential jail terms or default to the 16-month, two-year, or three-year jail term, it’s important to note that judges are not required to issue a sentence of jail time when someone has been convicted. Judges have considerable discretion in sentencing, and can grant felony probation, proscribe a diversion or treatment program, or defer the sentence.
What’s the best way to avoid jail time? By having a stellar Bay Area criminal defense attorney represent you. A seasoned criminal defense lawyer understands the nuances of the criminal justice system, and can advocate on your behalf every step of the way. For example, your attorney can convince the district attorney’s office that the evidence they have won’t hold up in court and that they should dismiss your case.
If dismissal is not an option, your attorney can negotiate a plea agreement. This might mean getting the prosecutor to agree to lessen the charges in exchange for a guilty plea. For example, when faced with the choice of going to trial on a felony grand larceny charge or obtaining a guilty plea on a misdemeanor petty theft charge, the prosecutor will want to avoid going to trial. A misdemeanor plea is a much better outcome than a felony conviction and a stint in county jail.
Even if your case goes to trial, your Bay Area criminal defense attorney can continue to push for a favorable resolution. If the prosecutor sees that your attorney has mounted a rigorous defense, they may agree to drop or significantly reduce the charges. If you are convicted at trial, your attorney can argue for leniency before the judge at your sentencing hearing.
While Class 4 felonies in California don’t explicitly exist, 1170(h) felonies are the equivalent. If you or a loved one has been charged with a felony, it’s in your best interest to contact a Bay Area criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more treacherous your position. In contrast, when you can rely on an experienced attorney, you can rest easier knowing that they will achieve the best possible outcome – one that secures your freedom and your future.