The number one fear of many people seeking criminal defense help is jail time. Our office fields calls daily from people who will do anything to avoid jail. We can thank the media for some of this fear. But, in reality, most people have never seen the inside of a jail cell or know what exactly life in jail is like. So, while many people fear jail when facing criminal charges, few know what to expect. When facing criminal charges and a potential jail sentence, misinformation and media representations aren't helpful. To help you face your charges with confidence, here are three common myths about jail sentences in California.
A Conviction Means Jail
Many criminal convictions in California carry the potential for jail time. Some even carry mandatory jail sentences.
But sentencing is more an art than a science. Judges work within sentence guidelines and refer to past precedence when issuing jail sentences. Even so, they have a large amount of discretion to wield when making decisions that can change a defendant's life forever. The bottom line is a conviction doesn't automatically mean jail time. Several factors can affect whether or not you get jail, mainly the facts and circumstances of your offense and your prior criminal history. Some first-time offenders receive probation in lieu of jail time. Those with prior convictions are more likely to get jail instead of probation. But know that just because you are facing criminal charges, doesn't mean incarceration is imminent. It's a possibility, but there may be steps you can take to avoid it.
Jail Means Missing Work and Never Seeing the Light of Day
The State of California imposes jail sentences to punish and rehabilitate offenders. It does not want offenders to lose their livelihood, as studies have repeatedly shown that can increase criminal recidivism. Fortunately, a jail sentence does not necessarily mean you will have to miss work or lose your job. In reality, there are a few jail alternatives that can allow offenders to serve their sentence while still fulfilling their normal day-to-day responsibilities, such as going to work or school. Some programs let offenders work during the day and return to monitored dorms at night. This is sometimes called “work release” and often involves private jail facilities defendant's pay to stay at. Others let offenders do community service in lieu of serving jail time, typically through Cal Trans. Offenders can do weekend community service with Cal Trans, typically picking up trash and debris highway side, which allows them to keep their job. Generally, a day of Cal Trans service (8 hours) equates to one day in jail served.
Some defendants even get electronic home confinement, which allows them to serve their sentence in the comfort of their own home. Defendants serving home confinement sentences typically are allowed to go to work during the day. Keep in mind, however, that these alternatives typically come at a cost to the defendant. The cost of pay-to-stay work release jails and home monitoring can add up. Always speak with an experienced California criminal defense attorney when considering jail alternatives to ensure you identify the option that is right for you.
You'll Face Long Jail Terms for Even Minor Offenses
In California, misdemeanor crimes are those that are punishable by up to one year in a county jail. Standard misdemeanors typically only carry the potential of up to six months in jail, while more serious “aggravated” misdemeanors can carry the potential of a maximum of 364 days in jail. So, if you are facing charges for a standard misdemeanor (e.g. petty theft, “simple” drug possession), you will receive no more than six months in jail. For aggravated misdemeanors (e.g. DUI, some assault), you will face a maximum of one year.
Felonies carry the potential of a year or longer period of incarceration either in county jails or State prisons. Note that certain felonies can be reduced to misdemeanors with the help of competent counsel. If you are facing felony charges and are concerned about incarceration, consult with a criminal defense attorney.
In reality, many first-time offenders do not get jail time. And even those that do may have jail alternative options that will allow them to keep their job. But every case is different, so consult with a seasoned California criminal defense attorney if you are facing charges.
If you are facing criminal charges in the Tulare, Fresno or Kings County area, call experienced criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens today for expert counsel. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we can help you fight your charges and clear your name. With over ten years of criminal defense experience, attorney Martens is ready to defend your rights. Contact our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss a possible plan of action for your case.