Contributory Negligence

California Criminal Sentencing Guidelines

Spread the love

If you have been convicted of a crime in California, you will be handed a sentence by a judge presiding over your case. In general, judges in California are given a fair amount of flexibility in determining criminal sentences, unless a crime has a mandatory minimum sentence. Below are some general California criminal sentencing guidelines.


If you have already been convicted or pleaded guilty to a crime, you will likely be given a separate sentencing hearing in which the judge will determine your sentence. If you haven’t yet been convicted, be sure to contact a good criminal defense lawyer in Sacramento or elsewhere in California.


A judge will normally take a number of  factors into consideration when deciding which sentence is appropriate. Crimes are divided into various categories, which also determines the sentence that is given.  


Misdemeanors are generally less-serious offenses that are punishable by a fine or a probationary period. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to jail time, it cannot last longer than a year.


Felonies are more-serious offenses and are punishable by a period of incarceration. Sometimes the length of incarceration is determined by California statutes, and some felonies have a mandatory sentence that  must be adhered to. In many cases, a felony sentence will have a range of possible prison terms, although the judge can adjust the prison term either up or down within the recommended range depending on the circumstances of the case.


Some charges are known as “wobblers” because they can be classified as either a felony or a misdemeanor. One such example of this is domestic assault. Sentencing for wobbler offenses is normally left to the discretion of the prosecutor, based on the facts and severity of the case.


California’s judicial system has a range of potential sentencing lengths, which are determined by a judge based on any mitigating factors in the case. If the judge sentences a convicted person to a term less than the recommended range, it is usually due to mitigating factors that lead the judge to believe that the person does not deserve the full extent of punishment.


Mitigating factors can include such things as a personal hardship that may have contributed to the criminal behavior, such as extreme financial stress. If the convicted person was not the principle actor in the crime but only an accessory, this may also lead the judge to be lenient in sentencing. In addition, the judge may also consider whether the person has a recent criminal history and what type of harm was suffered by others, if any.


In preparation for the sentencing, the judge will be provided with a pre-sentence report that is prepared by the California Probation Department. To prepare the report, an investigator or probation officer will gather any relevant information about the convicted person to assist the judge in determining their sentence. Details such as the convict’s family history, psychological profile, and criminal history will be included, as well as any victim statements that have been gathered. The investigator or probation officer may also include a sentencing recommendation for the judge and will suggest whether the convict is an appropriate candidate for probation. The judge does not have to follow these recommendations but will give it due consideration.


Probation is basically a suspension of the convict’s sentence, so even though they are sentenced to prison time, this time is suspended while they serve out a probationary term. The decision of whether to grant a person probation is normally made by a parole board who will take into account the prisoner’s behavior in jail.


If the probationary term is served successfully, it will become a substitution for the remaining prison term. However, if the terms of the probation are violated, the convicted person may be sent back to prison to serve out the full sentence.


For more information on California’s sentencing guidelines, visit the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation website at or the Supreme Court of California at