Getting jail time in california?
February 15, 2008 6:04 PM   Subscribe

What would a person have to do in order to get a one year jail sentence in the California penal system.

I'm working an idea, and I need someone to disappear. What sort of crimes could a person commit that would have a high probability of landing them in the slammer for a period of (around) one year. I'm thinking California, but I'm not set on it. Non-violent crimes would be useful.
posted by SECONDHANDSMOTE to Law & Government (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This appears to be a link to the California Penal Code.
posted by box at 6:12 PM on February 15, 2008

I'm working an idea, and I need someone to disappear.

One of the most sinister introductions to an AskMe scenario (but yes, I got the fiction tag). It seems to me that in choosing the crime the character's, well, character is probably a more important consideration than making sure you are exactly in the letter of the California penal code. A relatively decent schmoe who's taken a wrong turn? Bad checks, enough of them, with a history, probably could get you a year. Ditto DWI. More extreme, maybe some kind of felony theft... But it really depends on where you want the character to be coming from as an individual. I'd think.
posted by nanojath at 6:20 PM on February 15, 2008

drug offenses. the CA prison system (like all those in the U.S.) is absolutely full of drug offenders. This doesn't really apply to rich people, but poor people and minorities go to jail for non-violent drug offenses all the time. Most of them get more than a year though.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:37 PM on February 15, 2008

also, a repeat DWI offender will often get jail time.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:43 PM on February 15, 2008

Sentences under a year are usually served in the county jail, rather than the state prison system, although if people violate their parole they can end up back in the prison system for short periods.

Prisons are state institutions, and jails are county-run, at least in California.
posted by gingerbeer at 6:52 PM on February 15, 2008

Without actually checking, I'm sure there are tons of offenses that could land someone in jail for a year. It might help to know more about the character, storyline, etc., to be able to suggest crimes that will fit well.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 7:02 PM on February 15, 2008

To go to prison for a year, the person would either have to have some sort of prior, or be convicted of a fairly serious offense. Your first time selling pot, your first car burglary, your first prescription forgery -- all of these things would get you probation. Assuming the person has no priors, I'd say selling cocaine, having a substantial pot garden, or consensual sex with a 17 year old would do the trick.
posted by Crotalus at 7:20 PM on February 15, 2008

A felony.
posted by rhizome at 7:45 PM on February 15, 2008

My ex-stepdad did 2.5 years of a 5 year sentence in Chino for embezzlement. He was in a partnership and spent the partnership's money on other failed "projects." Still claims innocence. Schmuck. Maybe if the money had been less, his sentence would have been less. I'd ballpark that you might get two years for swiping $100,000 and serve 1 year. The money in his case was $350,000, and that was in 1991.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 7:57 PM on February 15, 2008

I'd ballpark that you might get two years for swiping $100,000 and serve 1 year. The money in his case was $350,000, and that was in 1991.

Stealing $100,000 is really no guarantee that you will get any jail time. If you've got no criminal record, there is a strong chance that you will get some sort of diversion or probation, even for amounts like that, unless the offense involves some sort of violation of public trust (a politician accepting bribes or an attorney stealing from a client will both stand a much greater chance of serving serious jail time, than an average Joe who embezzled from a company).

You're better off having your character do federal time --- there's a much greater exposure in terms of prison time in a federal case than in a state case. In my experience, the person either has to commit a serious violent crime, or have a fairly long record of petty offenses, to have to serve a year for anything in the state system.

Lots of people who commit aggravated assault don't serve any jail time, but rather just get probation, if they are first-time ofenders.

Case in point: I represented a guy whose record was terrible, and qualified him as a habitual felon under my state's sentencing law. I got him a three-year sentence on case where he was charged with two felonies, auto theft and evading arrest in an automobile (he led police on a high speed chase), and he served approximately one year.
posted by jayder at 8:12 PM on February 15, 2008

Well, the character could have had an awesome lawyer.

Or an extremely incompetent one.

False accusation for a piddling class B misdemeanor, bungling defense, pissed off judge, one ejaculation from the suspect, one contempt of court...
posted by porpoise at 9:18 PM on February 15, 2008

Do you need the character to be put away for a year, for purposes of your plot, or does the character him/herself need to find a way to spend a year in prison? Something about what you wrote makes me think the latter, which is obviously complicating. Does the sentence need to be a predictable year, from the character's perspective, as part of a greater plan? Like, he knows he's got to be inside over Christmas, but has to be out no later than January 18th?

From the answers above, it sounds like it might be tricky to premeditatedly land a perfect 365-day stretch without laying the groundwork through a series of minor offenses... is that the kind of thing your character would have time (or the backstory) to build up?

If this is an authorial need, rather than the character's need, is it possible that you don't actually require your man to spend a year in the state pen, but a total of 1 year from arrest through trial, sentencing, prison, and release? Or perhaps a 3 year sentence which you shorten [avert your eyes from the deus ex machina] by way of good behavior and a parole board hearing brought forward due to overcrowding, for example.
posted by mumkin at 1:34 AM on February 16, 2008

It's a tough nut to crack, plot-wise.

Any offense that is likely to land you a year in jail is possibly subject to a prison sentence for much, much, much longer. Any offense that can yield no worse than a year is, due to jail/prison overcrowding and a permissive criminal justice system, likely to get probation or a few weeks in jail.

An idea to deal with this: overcome the overcrowding and permissiveness of the criminal justice system by the place or nature of offense.

Maybe have the crime take place in a rural place with conservative judges, prosecutors and juries, or have the crime be a politically incorrect one that arouses the ire of liberal urbanites.

However, the offense must be a misdemeanor which can't toggle up to a felony -- so that if the reaction is to "throw the book at him" the result is the maximum misdemeanor sentence, one year.
posted by MattD at 5:33 AM on February 16, 2008

How would you feel about moving the action next door, to Arizona and the Maricopa County Jail? I think that would fit MattD's suggestion as the kind of place where you could expect an unabbreviated stay. Also, many colorful stories are available to you, should you need reference about your character's life inside (pink underwear, undershirts, sheets, socks, towels, etc; black and white striped old-school prison clothes; prisoner transport/parade in nothin' but their pink undies; freakin' CHAIN GANGS).

Work fast, though. The sheriff might be recalled this november.
posted by mumkin at 10:34 AM on February 16, 2008

In California, specifically, overcrowding issues are significant enough to compromise any guarantee of a lengthy sentence. My brother was sentenced in January to a year, on a felony conviction, and has been waiting at the courthouse lockup since then. This week they hastened his release date to the beginning of March (his birthday, coincidentally). He's an amicable guy in for a nonviolent conviction, but by the books it could have been much, much longer.
posted by indigoskynet at 11:19 PM on February 16, 2008

Yes, if the character just wants to go away for a year, jail could work. That's where you stay if you don't have bail. (county lockup).
posted by herbaliser at 4:31 PM on February 19, 2008

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