A felony charge carries severe consequences that can have a lasting impact on your life. From employment restrictions to social stigma, it can be tough to move on from a felony charge on your record in countless ways.
Understanding the implications of a felony charge is important, but way in which you fight that charge is crucial. Here, we will cover the most critical things you need to know about felony charges when challenging them in your case, including how they differ from misdemeanors, their impact on your employment and future prospects, as well as the long-term consequences of having a felony on your record.
It should be clear throughout this article that that the most significant factor in fighting a felony charge is by hiring a qualified defense attorney and implementing proven defense strategies.
Lastly, we’ll answer the question on everyone’s mind: Can a felony be expunged?
Understanding Felony Charges
Felony charges, the most serious of criminal offenses, can lead to life-altering consequences, including imprisonment in state prison. These charges vary in severity but are generally more serious than misdemeanors. Factors such as aggravated battery, great bodily injury, and using a firearm to further the commission of the offense can also further complicate matters, potentially leading to a lengthy prison sentence or extensive probation terms. But what does it mean to be charged in such a way?
The Definition of a Felony
A felony is a criminal offense that exposes someone to a potential prison or jail sentence of more than one year. However, many who are charged this way will not be incarcerated for this length of time, but more often fear the consequences and stigma that come from it.
Even though the most serious crimes like murder, sexual battery, and grand theft are classified based on this level of severity–the most common offenses charged share the same titles as misdemeanors. Therefore, most individuals who are charged will facing short to middle jail sentences while only a small minority of individuals will face life imprisonment, the death penalty, or incarceration in state prison for a lengthy period. The biggest differences have to do with aggravating factors (like California’s “three strikes law”) and a person’s criminal history.
A good example of this are domestic violence charges. You may be charged for the same behavior under the same exact penal code section under a misdemeanor offense level. However, being accused of causing more severe injury as well as committing criminal threats or having a prior history of similar offenses will raise the case to a higher severity level.
The Difference between Felonies and Misdemeanors
Felonies and misdemeanors differ in seriousness and potential penalties, as determined by the court system. Misdemeanor cases may result in jail time but only up to a year or less.
The Impact of Felony Charges on Employment
Faced a felony charge or having a conviction can cause serious struggle to find employment due to potential criminal record restrictions with many workplaces. In the United States, employers may be reluctant to hire those with higher offense convictions, leading to limited career prospects. Additionally, the social stigma attached to felony charges can further impede re-entry into the workforce, creating substantial barriers for someone.
Navigating these challenges sometimes requires strategic planning, legal awareness, and even seeking opportunities in industries that are more open to hiring those with criminal records, such as some markets or organizations focused on offender rehabilitation.
Effect on Professional Licenses and Certifications
It cannot be overstated that some industries and employers explicitly prohibit hiring individuals with felony records. Additionally, the loss of professional licenses can further limit employment options because many state agencies that issue certifications and credentials will either deny or suspending applicants based on this severity level.
But the greatest challenge will come from the prolific use (and overuse) of public record background check services that will further impair your pursuit of carrying on with your life: from job screenings, online dating, housing, and professional relationships.
The exploding availability of background check services seems to undermine most efforts aimed at reintegrating those with heavy criminal records into the fabric of society. Operating almost as a permanent Scarlet Letter, a publicly available court record that classifies someone within the “criminal class” manages to effect almost every major aspect of someone’s personal and professional life.
Navigating job interviews with a felony record demands transparency, professionalism, and keen legal awareness. While not central to this article, it should be noted that many states like California provide protections against employment discrimination to those with past arrest, charge, and conviction histories.
Consequences to Your Record
In case it hasn’t become clear already, you have every reason to fight your case so that you either (a) reduce your charge to a misdemeanor, (b) secure alternative sentencing that will avoid a conviction, or (c) mitigate the devastating consequences that will effect your life.
When people speak of “your record”, they typically mean your ultimate conviction (AKA: What you were deemed guilty of). Therefore, if your case is still pending, you have the chance to do everything possible to get a result you hope for while you still can.
How to Fight a Felony Charge in Court
Now that you are aware of all the negative implications your charge brings into your life, it’s time to face it head on.
Building a formidable defense against a felony charge demands significant legal representation and thorough case preparation. By first understanding the specific criminal statutes you are charged with and having deep familiarity of the court system you are operating in, combating felony charges becomes much more manageable.
Fighting felony charges requires a comprehensive understanding of criminal law, knowing how to use defense strategies that actually work, and (OFTEN OVERLOOKED) operating with the court procedures that are unique to the county system your case is in.
Hiring a Defense Attorney
This is Step 1.
There is no other way to say this: hiring the right lawyer is not the best option, it’s the only option.
Many people believe that defense lawyers are homogenous and can provide pretty much the same level of service to anyone’s case. Ask anyone who has had multiple criminal cases in their lifetime and they will be the first to tell you that the person you select to defend you will make the biggest difference as to whether you will be looking at the worst-case-scenario or celebrating a victory you never knew could be possible.
When looking for representation, it helps to find someone with (1) experience, (2) deep knowledge of your charges, and (3) communication skills an an attorney and advocate for your unique position.
Negotiating great plea deals, seeking alternative sentencing options, and knowing how to navigate the county court system are benchmarks to a great lawyer in this practice area–which rarely go unnoticed within the small community of practitioners.
A good defense attorney will work to advocate for your best interests, which includes potentially avoiding a felony conviction and minimizing the impact on your life and future opportunities. A great defense attorney will know how to get there before they even start working on your case. Your first meeting will give you an insight on knowing the difference.
Defense Strategies for Felony Charges
(1) Providing Important Context to Facts and Charges
The best legal defense strategies are typically the result of identifying where the District Attorney could use some additional exhibits or witnesses to change their perspective on the case. This is a hard concept for clients to understand and it deserves more explanation.
When prosecutors first evaluate a criminal case for a high offense level, they will have the clients entire criminal history from the Department of Justice. This will already paint a picture of their future defendant and may or may not be helpful if its lengthy or includes serious offenses.
When reading through the police reports related to the case, a general characterization is often made of the individual that was arrested and the facts that are meant to support the charges.
Where they apologetic? Heartless? Did they use any sophisticated or intricate means of causing harm to someone? Where they pleasant or disrespectful to authorities? Have they suffered more than the general public from mental health, substance abuse, or severe trauma?
All of these factors play into what a skilled defense attorney can bring to the table through additional evidence or testimony that can be used to trial (even if the case will not go to trial).
(2) Presenting Mitigation & Analyzing Elements of the Charge
Another overlooked and somewhat “unsexy” aspect of good legal work deals with finding the more appropriate charge level and supporting the reasons your client is deserving of “mitigation”. Both of these do not get enough attention on legal blogs yet it is central to great lawyering.
a. Charge Level “Calibration”
Finding appropriate charge levels deals with pinpointing the most factually accurate subsection of an offense when taking the entire case fact pattern into consideration. But what does that mean?
From the point of view of the public, a domestic violence occurrence may seem like any violent or offensive act against an intimate partner (whether that be pushing, scratching, or striking). But from the eyes of the law and the court, the exact level of physical context that can be supported by verifiable evidence will determine the most appropriate penal code section someone should be found guilty of or absolved entirely from. This can mean the ultimate difference in whether prison time or county jail are warranted.
b. Mitigation & Humanizing the Client
The seriousness of the crime will lead a felony case into sometimes very specific collateral consequences. With good reason, a great criminal defense attorney will see beyond the criminal charges and communicate to the district attorney how deserving they may be for misdemeanor reduction, dismissal of charges, and other alternative sentencing options.
It is not enough to point out that a convicted felon will have their voting rights removed, be disqualified from running for public office, and no longer eligible to work as a law enforcement officer. This does not make the client unique. Instead, it is far more helpful to provide ample (extrinsic and intrinsic) evidence that the offense is unlikely to occur ever again and that the client’s unique position in life will be effected far beyond that of anyone else in their shoes.
c. Setting up the Preliminary Hearing
Mentioned in passing up above, a California felony (whether it involves a deadly weapon, simple assault, drug crimes, or any other serious felonies), will have an extra stage called a Preliminary Hearing before the case proceeds to a felony trial. Without going into too much detail, a successful felony charge strategy must include a tailored approach to the presentation of evidence, affirmative defenses, and specific legal challenges just before and during the preliminary hearing.
Can a Felony Charge be Expunged, and How?
Expungement eligibility for felonies varies by state and the severity of the crime. Some violent crimes and sexual offenses may not be eligible. To expunge a felony, read our comprehensive guide.
It is essential to recognize the severe impact that a felony charge can have on various aspects of your life. From employment to personal relationships, and almost every aspect of your daily life. By seeking great legal representation, understanding your rights, and exploring options for mitigation or expungement, you can keep you feet on the ground and bring a second wind to this challenging moment of your life.