How can a California defendant serve his prison time in county jail? Throughout California including Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, persons who are convicted of a felony either after a plea agreement or trial are now eligible to serve their prison time in county jail as opposed to state prison. For many people, especially ones who have never served hard time in prison, serving a felony sentence in county jail can make doing custody time much easier and allows your family members easier and closer access to visit a friend or family member.
With the passing of the Criminal Justice Realignment Act of 2011 which became operative on October 1, 2011, a criminal defendant who is sentenced to state prison may be eligible to serve their time in county jail in lieu of state prison. California Penal Code section 1170 subd. (h) (1) provides that sentences for certain felonies shall be served in county jail. As explained in the California Court of Appeals case of People v. Clytus (2012) 209 Cal.App.4th 1001, the statute realigns low-level felony offenders “who do not have prior convictions for serious, violent, or sex offenses to locally run community-based corrections programs.”
An issue may arise where a defendant is facing charges that do not make him eligible to serve his prospective prison time in County Jail. In many instances, an experienced criminal defense attorney who is familiar with the new realignment laws can negotiate a plea to a lesser felony which would make a defendant eligible to serve his or her time in county jail as opposed to state prison. Reducing a felony charge to allow for serving time in county jail can depend on many factors including the defendant’s prior record, the facts of the pending felony and the length of sentence. Such issues should be analyzed by a qualified criminal defense lawyer.
Moreover, the court of appeal in Clytus also explained that the new realignment act shall apply prospectively to any person sentenced on or after October 1, 2011. Complications can arise where a defendant has been placed on probation prior to October 1, 2011 but ends up violating his or her probation and has a suspended state prison sentence. There is a split in case law in California dealing with this issue but many courts of appeal including the Court in Clytus have indicated that even though a defendant agreed to a suspended state prison sentence prior to the enactment of the Realignment Act, if they violate their probation after October 1, 2011, they still may be eligible to serve their time in county jail if their record and current felony conviction would otherwise make that person eligible to serve time in county jail in lieu of state prison pursuant to California Penal Code section 1170 subd. (h)(1).
Sentencing issues under the new Criminal Justice Realignment Act of 2011 can become complicated but the new law has brought new hope to many persons facing felony charges or charges of a felony probation violation. The first step in determining how to deal with these new sentencing laws is to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can represent and guide a defendant to a successful resolution of their criminal case.