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What is the Difference Between a Jail and a Prison Sentence?

Posted by Christopher Martens | Sep 08, 2015 | 0 Comments

For committing a crime, you could get either jail or prison time as a part of your sentence. Typically, those convicted of misdemeanors will face up to no more than year in a county jail and those convicted of felonies may face jail or prison time. Prison time is obviously much more serious than time in a county jail. You will be in prison for at least a year and possibly up to life. Just recently, the notorious overcrowding in California prisons resulted in a shift in how offenders of certain crimes are sentenced to either jail or prison. The intention is to put some non-violent felony offenders in county jails instead of state prisons to conserve prison resources. For example, some felony drug possession charges may have historically resulted in a prison sentence, however now, if they were non-violent, may result in a county jail sentence. The benefits here are two-fold. Those who have made minor mistakes and pose no threat to society may serve their sentence in jail instead of prison. Also, the state saves precious prison space for violent criminals who need more rehabilitation. Similarly, those who violated their parole terms, who may have gone to prison before, may be able to serve their term in jail, under certain circumstances. This is also an important change in how offenders are sentenced because those who were given a prison sentence are not eligible to have their charge later dismissed. They have to clean their record a different way, through applying for a certificate of rehabilitation and a pardon. These are rarely granted, while dismissals are relatively more common. Some felony convictions specific a state prison sentence while others have no designated jail or prison sentence. Generally, the crimes that are punishable by prison, not jail, time are those that involve serious violence, sex crimes, crimes that involve firearms or crimes against children. Also, those convicted of a felony DUI who have a prior felony conviction are not eligible to serve their sentence in jail. For those convicted of multiple crimes, if any crime came with a prison sentence, all terms must be served in a state prison.

The guidelines for crime sentencing continue to change. Recently, certain crimes previously charged as felonies are now being charged as misdemeanors, as an effort to reduce the strain on the state prison population. These are mostly minor property and drug charges. Those convicted of these crimes while they were charged as felonies can apply to be resentenced and, if currently serving a prison sentence, may be transferred to a county jail. Similarly, some misdemeanor drug possession charges are now only infractions, which carry no jail or prison sentence at all. Consequently, new jails are being built all across California to relieve the new burden on county jails, which are now taking in felons previously incarcerated at California state prisons. The California Department of Corrections has a lot of motivation to send offenders to county jails instead of prisons to help with the overcrowding problem. This may or may not be able to be used to your benefit. Consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are facing criminal charges and have questions about getting jail or prison time. Keep in mind that a prison term is far more serious than a county jail term. Along with the opportunities you won't be eligible for after serving a prison sentence, potential employers may also discriminate against you more heavily than they would if you served a shorter term in county jail. You may face other discrimination down the road from anyone who thinks prison is just for dangerous criminals. It once was for criminals who posed an immediate threat to society but over time, many harmless criminals have served long sentences in state prisons. With the recent realignment of the California corrections system, you may have a chance at avoiding this fate. Sometimes felony crimes can be plea-bargained down to misdemeanors so talk to an attorney if you want the best chance at avoiding a prison sentence.

Are you in the Tulare, Fresno or Kings County area and have questions about the sentencing you will face for your crime? Contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team. Experienced in criminal defense, Attorney Martens has taken over 50 criminal cases to trial and will fight tenaciously for you rights in court. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.

About the Author

Christopher Martens

Bio Visalia and Bakersfield criminal defense attorney who has dedicated his life to helping those who have been accused of crimes or injured due to the negligence of others.


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