California Misdemeanor v. Felony Offenses
The difference between felony and misdemeanor offenses.
StatuteMisdemeanors are crimes punishable by a fine and/or up to a year in the county jail. Felonies are crimes punishable by imprisonment exceeding a year in state prison or, in some cases, death (there's often a fine element as well). Whether a criminal act constitutes a misdemeanor or a felony depends on the punishment according to the applicable statute. Some statutes define a given crime as either a misdemeanor or a felony, thus it is up to the prosecutor to decide how to charge the offense.
Misdemeanor OffensesMisdemeanor cases usually start with an arrest, but sometimes, in less serious cases, law enforcement or the prosecutor's office sends the defendant a letter demanding attendance at court to answer charges. The first court appearance is called arraignment. At the arraignment, the defense receives a copy of the criminal complaint, police report, and other discovery. The court informs the defense about the charges and constitutional rights, a plea (usually "not guilty") is entered, bail (or "Own Recognizance" release) is discussed, the defense and prosecution commence negotiations and the court sets a pretrial hearing date. At the pretrial, the parties typically continue to negotiate, the judge reviews case status, another pretrial hearing date is usually scheduled for further negotiations, and a trial date set. During the pretrial phase, necessary motions are argued. The case then either results in a disposition (i.e. settlement) or goes to trial.
Felony OffensesFelony timelines are similar to misdemeanors, but with some differences . After arraignment, the court often times sends the case to a "early disposition and plea" ("EDP") hearing, where the parties discuss settlement. If there is no settlement at EDP, the court sets one or more preliminary hearing settings, where, settlement and case management are discussed. If a disposition is not reached, the case is called for a preliminary hearing where the court hears "prima facie" (basic) evidence and decides if there is probable cause (a "more likely than not" belief) that the defendant committed the charged crime. If so, the defendant is "held to answer" for trial, an "information" is filed with a higher level court and a felony arraignment is set. A plea is again entered and, if not settled at the pretrial phase or if defense motions to dismiss are not granted by the court, the case goes to trial.
MotionsThere are several types of motions that the defense can utilize when deemed appropriate. Typically, the motions concern suppression of illegally obtained evidence or dismissal of the case.