This is typically the first question clients have when they come to us for help. Felonies by definition allow for a minimum of one year or more in prison. Whether you will go to jail or prison upon a conviction depends on a number of factors, including the seriousness of the crime and your previous criminal record. Generalizations don’t tend to be very helpful. We encourage you to call us to discuss your particular case.
For a first offender who acknowledges their crime, many times a pre-prosecution probation program may be available. If you’re accepted into such a program (the decision lies with the district attorney), you will be placed on probation and required to pay any restitution which may be due. Pre-prosecution programs are typically not allowed for crimes of violence or for drug trafficking or distribution. There is a lengthy application that must be submitted for acceptance into the program. One area that is often times problematic is the requirement that the defendant admit guilt for the crime. Though there is no conviction for the admission, the admission can be used in court later if the defendant is not admitted into the program. If you are accepted and successfully complete of your probation, the criminal charges are dropped and you do not have a felony conviction.
If you are not eligible for pre-prosecution probation, the courts have a number of ways to structure sentences for persons who prove to be deserving of another chance. The job of the criminal defense lawyer in these situations is to prove to the court that you deserve another chance. These remedies include the granting of a conditional discharge, a deferred sentence or a suspended sentence.
If the court grants a conditional discharge, there is no adjudication of guilt. You are placed on probation and upon successful completion of probation, the criminal charges are dismissed. You don’t have a felony conviction on your record. However, you may be subject to severe immigration consequences if you are not a U.S. citizen. You are no longer entitled to possess a firearm.
If the court grants a deferred sentence, there is an adjudication of guilt, but upon successful completion of probation the criminal charges are dismissed. You don’t have a felony conviction on your record in this situation; however, this can affect your immigration status. Similarly, you are no longer entitled to possess a firearm.
If the court grants a suspended sentence, you do have a felony conviction, but you don’t have to serve jail time if you successfully complete your probation.
All of these possible outcomes are typically limited to first offenders. These outcomes are sometimes not available to non-citizens. Though these outcomes each result in dismissal of the charges against you, entry into these programs often requires an admission of guilt which often has severe immigration consequences including deportation.