In the state of California, criminal activities are generally classed into misdemeanors and felonies. A misdemeanor is a less serious charge, usually characterized by a fine, a brief span of jail time or community service. A felony is a more serious charge, encompassing stiffer fines, prison time and other long-reaching consequences. The type, severity and consequences of the alleged activity typically dictate whether an act is a misdemeanor or felony.
A misdemeanor is usually punishable by up to one year in a county or state jail, as opposed to prison. Prosecutors may negotiate plea bargains to reduce more serious felonies or misdemeanors down in level in exchange for the cooperation of the person accused of a crime, and they have broad discretion concerning what to charge a person with and at what level of severity. A criminal charge of marijuana possession without proper documentation would likely be a misdemeanor in the absence of aggravating factors.
In contrast, a felony may be punishable by more than a year in county or state jail or prison. Examples of felonies include murder, rape, sexual misconduct with a child, aggravated assault, arson and certain types of theft. Felony cases tend to have stricter courtroom protocols than misdemeanors because of the perceived severity of the offense and the need to ensure the constitutional rights of the defendant are observed.
In a case where a person is accused of a crime, a criminal defense attorney will in some cases attempt to negotiate a plea arrangement in order to reduce the initial severity of the charges based on a number of factors. If this is not feasible, the attorney can examine the official arrest record for constitutional violations or other misconduct in order to determine if the charges can be dismissed