Key Highlights

  • Felony charges in Orange County are the most serious offenses; leading to the most severe consequences in criminal justice.
  • Depending on the seriousness of the crime, they can lead to formal probation, jail time, and even prison.
  • In Orange County, 1-in-3 defendants can “plea down” to Misdemeanors [See Data Chart below]
  • Convictions can have long-term effects on one’s life, such as severely limiting employment opportunities.
  • They can also impact family and personal relationships, causing challenges in child custody and visitation.
Felony Courthouse
Not a US Courthouse, but still beautiful.

Introduction

Felony charges are among the most serious crimes in the United States. A felony conviction can have far-reaching consequences that can impact various aspects of a person’s life.

In Orange County, this is no different.

However, few have taken the time to calculate what happens in OC after these charges are filed. Our team has assembled data from California’s complex judicial system and caseload statistics from the County of Orange to educate the reader on the realities of what happens when almost 14,000 cases are filed in a single year

The results, are not what most people would expect.

Less than half of those charged plead guilty to the level of severity they were charged with (Approximately 41%).

• A little over a third (37%) of the defendants result in being convicted of a misdemeanor and can avoid formal probation as well as actual incarceration in prison.

10% are fortunate to secure some kind of alternative sentencing that allow for the charges to be dismissed.

• And just over one percent (1.3% to be exact) take the case to trial before a jury or a designated judicial officer to evaluate evidence and render a decision based on sworn testimony. 

Felony Charges in Orange County data
Actual Percentages derived from State and County criminal filing data (Fiscal Year 2023)

In this blog, we will delve into the key highlights of these charges and their impact in Orange County.

We explore the definition and classification of felonies, the differences between felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions, the immediate legal consequences of a felony conviction, the typical sentencing ranges for felonies, and the implications of probation and parole. 

We will also discuss in great detail the long-term effects of felony convictions on personal life, including their impact on employment opportunities, civil rights, and financial stability.

Understanding Felony Charges: A Brief Overview

Felony charges are considered the most serious crimes in the United States no matter what state or county they exist in. These charges range from what is punishable by significant prison sentences, fines, and other legal consequences.

The California Penal Code provides a specific framework for understanding felony offenses and their associated penalties. It is from this source of codified law where all reductions, guilty pleas, probation terms, and prison exposures is derived from.

felony charges data

How to Define or Classify a Felony in Orange County?

A felony can be defined as any criminal offense involving serious conduct which can result in either formal probation or where prison can be imposed. In Orange County, a person can be charged with a felony offense but can still secure a lower misdemeanor charge–even dismissal.

Since the California Penal Code establishes which offenses are classified as minor, moderate, or serious, it should be noted that some crimes can be classified as one or the other. These are often referred to as “wobblers”. While you won’t find that word in the Penal Code, it’s a common phrase used by practically everyone in the criminal justice system. Just like the phrase “expungement”, virtually all who work in criminal courts are familiar with its meaning–even though it does not exist in statutory laws.

Keep in mind, however, that every criminal case is unique in its facts and circumstances. But the data provided above should provide a glimpse into what’s possible.

Key Differences Between Felonies, Misdemeanors, and Infractions

The categorization of crimes into different levels is based on the seriousness of the offense and the potential legal consequences. Here are the key differences:

  • Felonies: these are the most serious crimes and carry significant legal consequences. They typically involve offenses such as murder, rape, burglary, kidnapping, and arson. They can also result in long prison sentences, fines, and loss of civil rights.
  • Misdemeanors: are less serious but more serious than infractions. They usually include non-violent crimes like shoplifting, reckless driving, simple assault, or drug possession for first-time offenders. They also carry shorter jail sentences and smaller fines compared to other felonies.
  • Infractions: are the least serious type of crime. They involve violations of rules, ordinances, or laws, such as traffic tickets, trespassing, littering, and disorderly conduct. Infractions usually result in fines or community service and do not lead to jail time or significant criminal records.

The Immediate Legal Consequences of a Felony Conviction

A conviction can have immediate legal consequences that significantly impact an individual’s life. The severity of these consequences depends on the specific offense and the applicable laws in the jurisdiction. The immediate legal consequences in Orange County may include:

  • Jail or Prison sentence: Potential jail sentences can be anything between 1 day to an entire year. The actual length of the sentence depends on various factors, such as the nature of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history. For prison, anything over one year to the maximum penalty under that penal code section is possible. Typically in California and Orange County, most charges expose defendants between 16 month to 3 years.
  • Firearms Rights: upon conviction, many defendants are prohibited from owning or possessing guns for life or in some cases up to 10 years.
  • Higher Exposure to background check scrutiny. Although 1-in-3 Americans have some form of criminal record, the most “accessible” and disastrous are those within the serious category. For online dating, these are the first ones spotted on people’s radar.

Based on the harsh realities of what occurs after a conviction, it cannot be understated that it’s is very important to consult with a criminal defense attorney to understand the potential legal consequences of the charges you may be facing and explore strategies for mitigating those consequences.

Typical Sentencing Ranges for Felonies

The sentencing ranges for felonies vary depending on most jurisdiction and the specific offense committed. Some of the potential sentencing options for felonies include:

  • Life imprisonment: Certain serious felonies, such as murder or aggravated sexual assault, can result in a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
  • Death penalty: In some states that allow capital punishment, certain aggravated or heinous crimes may carry the possibility of the death penalty.
  • Felony sentences: The length of felony sentences can vary greatly depending on the nature and severity of the offense. Sentences can range from several years to decades, depending on the specific crime committed.

In California and Orange County, the court considers various factors, such as the defendant’s criminal history, the presence of aggravating or mitigating factors, and the impact on the victim, when determining an appropriate sentence for a felony conviction.

Consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney to understand the potential sentencing range for a specific felony charge and to develop a strong defense strategy is crucial in preserving one’s future so one doesn’t risk everything on a bad decision.

Probation and Parole: What You Need to Know

In some cases, individuals convicted of felonies may be granted probation or parole as an alternative to incarceration or as part of their release from prison. Here are some key points to know about probation and parole:

  • Probation: Probation allows individuals to serve their sentence in the community (Orange County, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego) under certain conditions, such as regular check-ins with a probation officer, completion of community service, and adherence to specific restrictions. Violating the terms of probation can result in additional penalties or revocation of probation.
  • Parole: Parole is granted to individuals who have served a portion of their prison sentence and are released early under supervision. Similar to probation, parolees must adhere to specific conditions, such as regular check-ins with a parole officer, attending counseling or treatment programs, and maintaining employment.

Both probation and parole provide opportunities for individuals to reintegrate into society while under supervision.

Long-Term Effects of Felony Convictions on Personal Life

A felony conviction can have long-term effects on a person’s personal life, including their civil rights, employment opportunities, and overall well-being. Some of the key long-term effects of a felony conviction include:

  • Criminal record: A felony conviction results in a permanent criminal record, which can affect future employment prospects, housing opportunities, and other aspects of life.
  • Convicted felon “status“: Individuals with felony convictions are often stigmatized and face challenges in reintegrating into society.
  • Limitations on civil rights: Felonies can result in limitations on certain civil rights, such as the right to vote, possess firearms, and serve on a jury1.
  • Employment opportunities: Felony convictions can significantly impact job opportunities, as many employers conduct background checks. Some professions may be entirely off-limits to convicted felons.

It is crucial for individuals with felony convictions to understand their rights and explore options for reintegration into society, such as seeking legal assistance in expungement or other forms of relief.

Impact on Employment Opportunities

A felony conviction can have a significant impact on employment opportunities. Many employers conduct background checks, and a felony conviction may make it challenging to secure certain jobs. Here are some ways that felony convictions can affect employment:

  • Limited job opportunities: Employers may be hesitant to hire individuals with felony convictions, particularly for positions of trust or responsibility.
  • Professional licensing: Some professions, such as law, healthcare, and education, may require individuals to hold licenses. A felony conviction can make it difficult to obtain or maintain these licenses.
  • Public office: Convicted felons are generally barred from holding public office, as the position involves public trust and the potential for conflicts of interest.
  • Employment discrimination: While laws vary, some states have laws that protect individuals with criminal records from employment discrimination. However, the stigma associated with felony convictions can still present challenges in finding suitable employment.

It is important for individuals with felony convictions to understand their rights and explore opportunities for rehabilitation and reintegration into the workforce. Seeking legal guidance can provide valuable insights and strategies for overcoming these challenges.

Limitations on Civil Rights and Liberties

Felonies can result in limitations on certain civil rights and liberties. The specific limitations vary by jurisdiction, but common restrictions include:

  • Voting rights: In some states, individuals convicted of felonies lose their right to vote while incarcerated, on parole, or on probation. However, these voting rights may be restored upon completion of the sentence or through a separate legal process.
  • Firearm possession: Convicted felons are generally prohibited from possessing firearms. Federal law and many state laws impose restrictions on firearm ownership and possession for individuals with felony convictions.
  • Passport rights: Individuals with certain felony convictions may face restrictions on international travel, as their passport applications can be denied or revoked.

It should be noted that with many updates to the expungement statutes in California, many of these collateral consequences have been lifted or modified to allow for better reintegration with society for many.

Justice

Financial Implications of Being Convicted of a Felony

Being convicted of these kinds of cases can have significant financial implications. The financial burdens resulting from convictions may include:

  • Legal fees: Defending against felony charges often requires the assistance of a criminal defense attorney, whose services can be costly. Legal fees can quickly accumulate throughout the legal process as the case evolves closer to preliminary hearing or trial.
  • Fines: Felony convictions can result in substantial fines imposed by the court. The amount of the fines depends on the specific offense and the applicable laws.
  • Lost earnings: Serving a prison sentence or facing other legal consequences can lead to lost earnings and financial instability. Felony convictions may also limit future employment opportunities and earning potential.

Exploring options for reducing fines and mitigating financial burdens through legal strategies can be beneficial. Our office provides structured payments in many cases and offer no cost/no obligation consultations when deciding to find the practitioner that is right for you.

Legal Fees and Fines

Defending against high exposure charges often involves hiring a criminal defense attorney, whose services can lead to significant legal fees. The cost of legal representation may vary depending on the complexity of the case, the experience of the attorney, and the duration of the legal process. In addition to legal fees, the ultimate conviction can result in substantial fines imposed by the court. The amount of fines depends on various factors, including the specific offense committed and the applicable laws.

For individuals facing charges, unpaid consultations are normal in criminal defense practice. One may wish to consider the potential financial implications and explore options for reducing legal fees and fines through negotiation, plea agreements, or other legal strategies. 

The Cost of Lost Job Opportunities and Earnings

Being convicted of any felonies can have a significant impact on job opportunities and earnings. Felony convictions often lead to limited employment prospects due to the stigma associated with such convictions. Individuals with felony records may face challenges in securing stable employment, advancement, or professional licensing. The financial burden resulting from lost job opportunities and earning potential can be substantial, affecting an individual’s financial stability and future prospects. Additionally, individuals with felony convictions may struggle with financial barriers when it comes to securing housing, obtaining loans, or even accessing certain government benefits. 

Social and Psychological Impact of Felony Charges

Felonies can have a significant social and psychological impact on individuals. The stigma associated with serious charges often leads to social isolation and strained relationships. Friends, family, and community members may distance themselves due to the negative perception and fear associated with felony charges. The psychological impact of facing felony charges can be profound, leading to increased stress, anxiety, and emotional distress.

We often see that the fear of the unknown, potential consequences, and the uncertainty of the legal process can take a toll on mental health. Seeking support from mental health professionals, counselors, or support groups can be beneficial for individuals facing felony charges to navigate the challenges and manage the psychological impact.

Stigma and Social Isolation

One of the most significant challenges individuals facing felonies encounter is the stigma and social isolation that often follows. These charges carry a societal perception of wrongdoing and can lead to negative judgments from friends, family, and the community. Individuals may find themselves ostracized or excluded from social activities due to the fear and prejudice associated with felony charges. The social isolation resulting from the stigma can lead to feelings of loneliness, shame, and a sense of being disconnected from one’s support network.

Mental Health Considerations

It goes without saying, that facing charges that are serious in nature can have significant psychological effects on individuals. The emotional distress and uncertainty associated with the legal process can lead to heightened stress, anxiety, and depression. It is essential for individuals to prioritize their mental health and seek appropriate support. Mental health professionals can provide counseling, therapy, and support tailored to the unique challenges faced by individuals in legal situations. Engaging in self-care activities, such as exercise, mindfulness, and connecting with supportive friends and family, can also contribute to overall well-being. Taking steps to address mental health considerations can help individuals facing felony charges manage the psychological impact and develop resilience during this challenging time.

Criminal Justice

How Felony Charges Affect Family and Relationships

Felony charges can have profound effects on family relationships and dynamics. The strain resulting from felony charges can impact various aspects of family life, including marital relationships, parental relationships, and child custody arrangements.

Once gain, the stress and uncertainty associated with felony charges can lead to marital strain, increased conflict, and challenges in maintaining healthy relationships.

In cases involving domestic violence, felony charges can further complicate family dynamics and child custody disputes. It is crucial for individuals facing felony charges to seek legal support and resources to navigate the impact on their family and relationships effectively. A well prepared defense attorney who can collaborate with a chosen family lawyer can have magnified benefits to the client in both the immediate and long-term. Thus, choose wisely.

Strain on Marital and Parental Relationships

Felony charges can place significant strain on marital and parental relationships. The stress, uncertainty, and potential consequences associated with felony charges can lead to increased conflict, emotional distance, and strain between partners. Marital strain resulting from felony charges can impact communication, trust, and overall relationship dynamics. Parental relationships can also be affected, with concerns about the impact on children and potential changes in custody arrangements. Seeking professional support, such as couples counseling or mediation could help individuals facing felony charges navigate the strain on their marital and parental relationships. Open and honest communication, mutual support, and a focus on the best interests of the children can contribute to maintaining healthy family dynamics during this challenging time.

Challenges in Child Custody and Visitation

Felony charges can significantly impact child custody and visitation arrangements. Family law courts prioritize the best interests of the child when making custody determinations. A felony conviction can be a relevant factor in assessing a parent’s ability to provide a safe and stable environment for the child. In some cases, felony charges can lead to limitations on parental rights or supervised visitation.

It is crucial for individuals facing felony charges to work closely with a family law attorney who can provide guidance on navigating the legal complexities of child custody and visitation. Seeking legal advice and presenting a strong case focused on the best interests of the child can help mitigate the challenges associated with felony charges and parental rights.

Scales of Justice

Navigating the Legal System With Felony Charges

In case it has to become clear from this article, navigating the legal system with felony charges can be complex and overwhelming. Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney is essential to ensure the protection of one’s rights and to develop a strong defense strategy. A criminal defense lawyer can guide individuals through the legal process, provide advice on plea deals and trial strategies, and represent them in court. Understanding the key steps in a felony case, such as the preliminary hearing and the importance of probable cause, is crucial for individuals facing felony charges to make informed decisions and achieve the best possible outcome within the legal system.

The Role of a Criminal Defense Attorney

A criminal defense attorney plays a pivotal role in protecting the rights and interests of individuals facing felony charges. Their expertise and knowledge of the legal system are crucial for navigating complex legal proceedings and developing a strong defense strategy. The role of a criminal defense attorney may include:

  • Court representation: A criminal defense attorney represents individuals facing felony charges, ensuring their rights are protected throughout the legal process. This involves very active court appearances, engaging with prosecutors and judges, and even navigating witness interviews with experienced private investigators.
  • Defense strategy: Attorneys analyze the evidence, investigate the case, and develop a defense strategy tailored to the specific circumstances of the felony charge.
  • Negotiations: Defense attorneys negotiate with the prosecution, seeking favorable plea deals or reduced charges, when appropriate.
  • Court Hearings: Attorneys represent individuals in court, presenting their case, cross-examining witnesses, and advocating for their rights and interests.

It goes without saying that choosing the right felony lawyer could affect the rest of your life. Understanding the challenges ahead and how to handle the charges effectively is just the first step. Qualifying the professional that you will put your trust in is a very personal and highly involved process.

Exploring Plea Deals and Trial Strategies

In cases involving felonies, individuals facing charges have the option to explore plea deals or proceed to trial. Both options require careful consideration and guidance from a criminal defense attorney. Here are some key aspects to understand:

  • Plea deals: A plea deal involves negotiating with the prosecution to reach an agreement on reduced charges, lesser penalties, or alternative sentencing. Plea deals can be beneficial in avoiding the uncertainties and potential harsh consequences of a trial.
  • Trial strategies: If an individual chooses to go to trial, their defense attorney will develop a trial strategy. This may involve presenting evidence, cross-examining witnesses, and challenging the prosecution’s case.
  • Legal advice: It is crucial to seek legal advice from a criminal defense attorney when considering plea deals or trial strategies. An attorney can provide guidance on the potential risks, benefits, and implications of each option.

Navigating the complexities of plea deals and trial strategies requires the expertise of a criminal defense attorney and should not be taken lightly.

In Orange County (as well as in most counties), 87% of felonies are resolved at or just prior to the setting of the preliminary hearing. There are very real and important reasons why this is the case and clients must understand the relative risks associated with proceeding to trial versus finding a reasonable plea negotiation with the court or prosecution.

Felony Charges

Conclusion

In conclusion, understanding the gravity of felonies and their long-term repercussions is crucial. From legal consequences and financial burdens to social stigma and emotional strain, the impact on personal and professional life can be significant.

Navigating the legal system with the support of a criminal defense attorney is essential. If you’re facing felony charges, seeking legal guidance promptly and exploring all available options can help mitigate the consequences and safeguard your future prospects. Remember, proactive steps and informed decisions can make a difference in how these challenges unfold.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Felonies Be Reduced or Expunged?

Yes, in most cases, past convictions for felonies can be reduced to lesser offenses through a plea deal or negotiated agreement with the prosecution. In Orange County, expungement may also be a possibility, allowing for the removal of the conviction from an individual’s criminal record. The process for reducing to lower charges or expunging a conviction varies and involves meeting specific requirements and going through the necessary legal procedures. Contact our office if you would like to explore this avenue.

What Should I Do Immediately After Being Charged With Felonies?

If you have been charged with any felonies, it is important to take immediate actions to protect your rights and seek legal counsel. It is crucial to consult with an attorney who can guide you through the arrest procedure, provide legal advice, and represent your interests throughout the legal process.

  1. Recent changes to California law now allow felons to service on jury panels. ↩︎
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About the Author: Bart Kaspero

Bart Kaspero is an experienced criminal defense and regulatory attorney who has focused on using technology and the law in bringing privacy to criminal records. His research has been published in several legal journals and his unique background has helped a broad spectrum of clients. He has provided legal training to lawyers across the US on how to navigate complex criminal record legislation and how to effectively provide privacy to those with past arrests, charges, and convictions. His innovative methods have earned him a top position of authority on the subject of criminal record privacy as well as trust within the criminal data supply chain.