California's Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws

California criminal courts handle the process of convicting and sentencing an offender found guilty of committing a crime. While some crimes have sentences that can largely be decided by the judge handling the case, other crimes are subject to California's mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Our attorneys explain how these mandatory minimums work and how they may influence a defendant's sentence for a crime.

What Are California's Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws?

California's mandatory minimum sentencing laws were created in the late 1970s to replace the state's indeterminate sentencing system in an effort to assign punishments in a uniform manner and in proportion to the severity of the crime. These laws define the lowest degree of punishment and the highest possible degree of punishment for a particular crime.

For example, certain felonies may result in a prison sentence that can range from 5 years without parole all the way to life in prison. It is up to the judge handling the case to determine what degree of punishment a specific felony requires. However, if an offense has a mandatory minimum sentence, the defendant will likely have to serve at least the minimum sentence required for their crime, as the judge may not prescribe a lesser sentence.

Are Misdemeanors Subject to Mandatory Minimums?

When a person is charged with a crime, the offense can be considered a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor is a less serious criminal offense in comparison to a felony. Disorderly conduct, DUI, simple assault, and probation violation are some common examples of misdemeanors. In California, the maximum jail sentence for a misdemeanor is one year.

The mandatory minimum sentence rules are only applicable to felonies and not misdemeanors. A felony is a more serious offense, such as domestic violence, assault, robbery, murder, and manslaughter. Sentencing for felonies is largely based on three sentencing ranges – low-term, mid-term, and high-term, with the low term being the least amount of time a person can serve for the felony they committed. The judge can decide which sentencing range is appropriate for the case based on the severity of the crime and the presence of any aggravating factors, such as previous felony convictions.

What Are the New Rules for Non-violent Crimes Concerning Mandatory Minimums?

The California Senate has passed a bill that proposes the end of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes. The bill was created due to the fact that many believe non-violent offenders charged with drug crimes would benefit more from accessing alternative sentencing options that include rehabilitation.

However, current mandatory minimums for these offenses mean judges do not have the option of prescribing an alternative sentence, and the offender is sent to jail. The bill is expected to be beneficial for nonviolent offenders struggling with substance abuse as it gives judges the authority to order probation instead of sending the offender to be incarcerated, which critics say has been an ineffective and costly solution for fighting drug problems in the community. If you are not sure how the new legislation may affect your case, it is always best to consult a skilled criminal defense attorney.

Why Is It Important to Work With a Skilled Defense Attorney if You Are Being Charged?

With the exception of non-violent drug crimes, felonies are still subject to mandatory minimum sentence laws in California. Certain criminal offenses – such as DUIs – are considered "wobbler" charges, as they can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony if certain aggravating factors are present.

Working with a skilled criminal defense attorney may mean the difference between facing a maximum jail sentence of one year for a misdemeanor and being subject to a mandatory minimum jail sentence for a felony. If you are being charged with a criminal offense, an attorney can positively impact your case by convincing the prosecution to de-escalate your charges and negotiating a more lenient sentence. Depending on the nature of the crime, your attorney may be able to help you avoid imprisonment altogether and secure an alternative sentence, such as community service or probation.

Each criminal case is different, but the sooner you contact a criminal defense attorney for your case, the better your chances of securing a positive outcome. The Hurwitz Law Group is here to help – call 323-310-9677 to learn more.

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