California Criminal Law: Frequently Asked Questions

Criminal law in California often perplexes those outside the legal arena, leaving many individuals with unanswered questions and concerns. Consequently, this comprehensive FAQ page will equip you with the essential knowledge to tackle any legal obstacle. From understanding criminal charges and court procedures to exploring legal representation options, here you’ll find the answers you need during these trying times and make an informed decision about your legal situation.

Here are a few questions prospective clients ask me daily:

In California, the formation of criminal laws stems from a blend of legislative measures, electoral propositions, and court rulings. Most bills are subject to the following actions.

Bill Creation 

The primary responsibility for establishing and revising criminal laws in California falls on the State Legislature, comprising the State Assembly and State Senate. Legislators introduce bills that outline new criminal statutes or propose changes to existing ones. Each motion goes through a series of hearings, committee discussions, and votes in both chambers of the legislature. Upon successfully navigating through the Assembly and Senate, a bill lands on the Governor’s desk, who possesses the authority to either endorse it into law, exercise a veto, or permit it to materialize into law without their signature.

Ballot Initiatives 

In California, residents can suggest and implement new laws or modify current ones via the initiative procedure. This process enables individuals or organizations to compose draft legislation, collect endorsements from registered voters, and position the proposal on the ballot for a vote across the state. If the initiative is popular with registered voters and wins at election time, it becomes law.

Judicial Decisions 

California courts also play a pivotal role in shaping criminal law by interpreting existing statutes and constitutional provisions to ensure they remain applicable. Upon rendering decisions in criminal cases, judges commonly provide clarity or fine-tune the understanding of a given law, create legal precedents, or formulate principles regarding the law’s implementation in upcoming trials.

Within California, the severity of your crime will determine if it’s an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony.


These are the least serious offenses and usually involve minor violations, such as traffic tickets or littering. Infractions don’t lead to incarceration. However, the offender might be obligated to pay fines.


In comparison, this category holds greater severity than minor infractions and may lead to imprisonment, probation, monetary penalties, or community service. Examples include petty theft, DUI, and simple assault.


Felonies represent the gravest classification of criminal acts and can yield substantial repercussions, such as extended incarceration, hefty fines, or even capital punishment in certain instances.

Being handcuffed and escorted to jail by law enforcement due to the suspicion you participated in criminal activities constitutes an arrest. Contrastingly, a conviction refers to the official pronouncement of a guilty verdict concerning the alleged crime.

If you’re currently under arrest in California, you have several rights, including:

  • The right to remain silent
  • The right to an attorney
  • The right to a fair and speedy trial
  • The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures

If law enforcement places you under arrest, you must understand and exercise these rights for the best possible outcome. 

A criminal defense lawyer is a legal practitioner with expertise in representing those facing criminal allegations. They help protect their clients’ rights, create a strong defense strategy, negotiate plea deals, and argue cases for their clients in court during trials, hearings, and subsequent appeals.

While this list has some pertinent information, it is solely for general understanding and should not be your only source of legal advice. Schedule a consultation now, and we’ll discuss your case and subsequent strategy.