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General Information

Defending a Criminal Case



The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is whether or not conviction could result in incarceration in the state prison system versus a maximum term of one year in county jail.  Some offenses are called “wobblers,” meaning that they can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. 

In California, misdemeanor charges are often filed by way of a “complaint.” A “complaint” is a legal document which must sufficiently allege the elements of the statute (law defining the “charge”) against you. 

Felony charges are commonly filed by way of complaint in California.  However, the prosecution has the ability and sometimes elects to, convene a grand jury and obtain an “indictment.”

The main difference between a “complaint” and an “indictment” is that the accused is entitled to a probable cause hearing (“preliminary hearing”) at which the accused, through counsel, may confront and cross-examine prosecution witnesses, and even call defense witnesses if appropriate.
With an indictment, the grand jury is only presented with one side of the story - that told by the prosecution - which often means that the ability to challenge the State’s evidence prior to trial is more limited.


The majority of criminal cases in California are brought by the State, not the United States.  Generally, federal cases tend to be more complex and often the potential “exposure” (meaning what the worst-case scenarios is in the event of a conviction) is extremely high. 

One of the major differences between state and federal prosecutions is that pretrial release in state court may be effectuated by posting a bail bond (typically by paying a premium of up to 10% of the bail amount).  However, in federal court, where the charges carry a mandatory minimum of ten years imprisonment, often pretrial release may only be secured by posting property with sufficient equity. Often, in order to present the best possible case for pretrial release, it may be necessary for the accused to remain in custody.


Like each person, every case is different. The county in which you are charged is a factor.  Whether or not you have any prior criminal convictions is a factor. Whether or not the evidence alleged against you was obtained by a search warrant versus a warrantless arrest is yet another factor.  Therefore, the best option is to schedule a complimentary consultation which will allow us to discuss the specifics in a confidential setting and thereby answer this significant question.

Sara Zalkin

Northern California Criminal Defense Attorney
rated by Super Lawyers

Super Lawyers 2009-2015

Listed as "One to Watch"
UC Hastings Magazine
Fall 2009

Selected as a member of
"The National Trial Lawyers"
"Top 40 Under 40" in 2012.

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