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Criminal Law in California

A qualified California criminal defense attorney can evaluate your criminal case, create effective legal strategies, and defend you in court. If you feel overwhelmed and uncertain of the next step, this article was written for you.

Because jail time may be possible and your future is at stake, we’ll discuss:

  • California specific criminal laws;
  • What you need to know about criminal defense in California; and
  • How to work with your California criminal defense attorney.

California Criminal Laws

Criminal law seeks to protect individuals and the general public from injury. Laws are written and applied to provide notice of what constitutes a crime and to serve both as a deterrent and as a punishment.

California criminal laws are found in the Penal Code of California. The Code includes all state crimes, including falsifying evidence, money laundering, bigamy, incest, abduction, and child abuse.

Statute of Limitations
Criminal charges must be brought within a certain period of time or be forever barred.

For example, in California, the statute of limitations for:

  • Misdemeanors is 1 year, unless the misdemeanor was against a minor under the age of 14, then the statute of limitations is 3 years;
  • Sexual exploitation committed by a therapist or doctor is 2 years;
  • Murder -unlimited;
  • Offenses (punishable by 8 or more years in jail) is 6 years.

California judges must dole out criminal punishment based upon “Determinate Sentencing” laws. This means that if you are convicted of a felony and sentenced to jail time, the judge selects one of three prison terms: “low-term”, “mid-term” or “high-term”.

The decision is at the discretion of the judge and is based upon your criminal history, severity of the crime, and the circumstances of the crime.

For example, in California, sentencing guidelines call for:

  • 16, 24, or 36 months in jail for possession of an assault weapon;
  • 60, 84, or 108 months for soliciting murder;
  • 16, 24, or 36 for religious terrorism.

What You Need to Know About Criminal Defense

If you are being questioned about or have been arrested for a crime in California, your life, liberty, and money may be at risk.

  • Ask to be represented by an attorney, even if you’re just being questioned. Always seek legal counsel.

  • Asking for an attorney doesn’t indicate that you’ve done anything wrong. Regardless of whether you’re innocent or guilty – or somewhere in between – you need to be represented by a California defense lawyer.

  • Do not speak with the police except to provide your name and ask for an attorney.

  • Be honest and open with your attorney, even if what you have to say looks bad.

How to Work with a California Criminal Defense Lawyer

Everything your lawyer asks of you, suggests to you, and any other actions he or she takes is to represent you and put forth the best defenses. Always keep this in mind when you choose how to act or react.

In addition,

  • Follow your lawyer’s advice.
  • Explain what happened to your attorney – include the details you’d rather forget.
  • Return all phone calls or emails right away.
  • Provide all requested information right away.
  • If your phone number or address changes, update your attorney immediately.
  • It’s okay for your attorney to question you, even challenge you.
  • It’s okay, professional, and appropriate for your attorney to be polite and cooperative with police officers, investigators, and the district attorney (or other prosecutor).

Bottom Line: If you have been questioned in or accused of a crime in California, you need a qualified criminal defense attorney immediately. Whether innocent or guilty, you need representation. Your next step is to call a criminal defense attorney now.

Ask the bar association or friends for referrals or simply Google, “How to find a California Criminal Defense Attorney.”

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