The Basics of California Criminal Law

December 19, 2017

If you are preparing to move and start a new life in the state of California, or are a long-term resident with a newfound curiosity concerning the Californian legal system, then you might be wondering what, in essence, a Californian criminal law is all about. This brief guide aims to give you an overview of what the legal system in the state of California is all about.

Defining a Crime


Under the principles of Californian criminal law, crimes are defined in the form of written statutes. These can be issues at the local, state, or federal level. These statutes outline exactly what is considered a crime under the law. As a general principle, crimes are those actions which are considered to be detrimental to society and these acts, when encompassed in the corresponding statute, can be prosecuted under the Californian law.

Criminal statutes will clearly define what conduct can be legally classified as a crime, and thus prosecuted under the Californian law. The criminal statutes will also make it clear what intents and actions are required in order for an act to be considered criminal, as well as the recommended punishment for individuals who are found guilty.

What is a Statute?


A statute is the written piece of legislation which defines a crime and details the behaviors and intents which are required to charge an individual with that crime. As an example, under Californian law, a burglary (Penal Code 459 PC) is defined as “entering a structure with the intent to commit a felony (or a petty theft) once inside.” This can either be prosecuted as a felony or as a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances and the criminal history of the accused.

The statute will also detail the types of punishment which are deemed appropriate for a given crime. In the case of burglary, a misdemeanor burglary would not incur a jail term of more than a year in county jail. If convicted of a burglary deemed a felony, however, then the offender could face up to six years in a state prison.

The most common punishments under the Californian criminal law are fines, probation, imprisonment, and community service.

The California Criminal Process


Crimes in California are tried in the community or area most affected by the criminal activity, this is usually the place where the crime took place. The process itself consists of an investigation, arrest (if a crime is deemed to have been committed), the criminal charge, prosecution, and if convicted, the sentencing.

If you find yourself charged with a crime, then it is important to engage the services of a criminal defense attorney. According to criminal lawyer Vikas Bajaj, “Not securing suitable legal representation puts you at a significant disadvantage in any criminal proceedings.” If you are accused of a crime then you retain a number of rights and it is important to understand these, a criminal attorney will be able to help you ensure that your rights are respected.

Californian criminal law works much like the legal systems of other states in the union, but every state has its own quirks and peculiarities and it is worth being aware of what these are.




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