Courts Crime and Punishment Criminal Justice

Charged With a Felony in California? Odds Are You’ll Wind up Guilty.

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Written by WLA Guest

By Gabriel Kahn, Crosstown

If you have been charged with a felony in California, the overwhelming odds are you’re guilty. Or you’ll be found guilty, at least.

An analysis of a year’s worth of felony cases in the Golden State showed that 82% wind up in some type of conviction or guilty plea. When just looking at Los Angeles County, it’s even higher: 87%.

You are innocent, you say? And you want to take your case to trial? The odds are even worse.

Of all felony cases that wind up before a judge or jury, only 14% result in an acquittal, dismissal, or transfer to another jurisdiction.

California’s rate appears to be well above the national average, though finding a precise comparison is elusive. According to a 2009 survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which examined caseloads in the 75 most populous counties nationwide, 54% of felony cases resulted in a felony conviction and 12% resulted in a misdemeanor conviction.

In its most recent Court Statistics Report, the Judicial Council of California examined the 170,531 felony cases that made it into California’s Superior Courts between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017.

A whopping 98% of the total cases never make it to trial. Here are some other notes about those 98% (or 167,120 cases):

Of the 2% of all cases that did make it to trial – 4,824 cases – the felony conviction rate is even higher.

What about all those ads from lawyers who promise to get you off? Well, read the fine print. Michael Bialys, a lawyer in Los Angeles who bills himself as “The DUI Man,” explains that what he’s really offering is the best possible outcome, not a clean slate.

“DUIs are not a ‘whodunnit,’” he said. “Normally, you’re behind the wheel of a car. A felony DUI is a DUI in which someone is injured. Typically, the chances of getting acquitted on those are very, very small. So what do you do? Mitigation.”

That could mean lower jail time or lower fines.

“But those are not acquittals,” Bialys said.

Between 1980 and 2010, the overall number of felony convictions increased in every state, according to a University of Georgia study. The overall U.S. prison population rose dramatically after 1970, reaching a peak of 1.61 million in 2009, according to data from the Sentencing Project.


This story originally appeared on Crosstown, a non-profit news organization that uses data on crime, traffic and air quality to tell stories about Los Angeles.

Illustrations by Emily Stone.


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10 Comments

  • That’s because they are guilty. They get a reduced sentence for pleading and not wasting everybody’s time playing silly games.

  • FYI….

    An off duty LASD deputy was shot while at a Jack in the Box in the city of Alhambra.

    Thoughts and prayers are with the family of the deputy.

  • Dose of Reality is correct. Everyone knows the police never arrest innocent people, never lie, never frame people, never file false reports. And, of course the DA never overcharges, always questions the veracity of the police statements, and they treat everyone equally. And, of course everyone posts bail and hires and attorney so its never worth pleading guilty if in fact one is innocent. Yes, they are all guilty.

    • cf, you’re a vociferous spokesperson for your cause. I hope you someday escape the liberal rabbit hole you fell into. You’d be amazed at what really happens out in the real world.

  • As is usually the case with articles about criminal justice stats, this article can’t see the forrest from one particular tree. As pointed out above, these stats are driven first and foremost the fact that the overwhelming majority of people arrested for felonies are guilty of those felonies (or more). Some are not, over-charging can occur, but most of the time the suspect is guilty, they know it, they are offered a good deal, and they plea.

    This article does not capture the other side of the coin, however: the huge number of people righteously arrested for felonies (or misdemeanors) that the DA doesn’t charge because the case isn’t a 100% slam dunk. For example: ‘you can’t PROVE the suspect knew there was a gun in the bag he tossed as he ran away…’ Righteous felony arrest rejected by the DA.

    I’ve made probably 600 arrests in my career. I’ve had one case go to jury trial. The difference is made up entirely of plea agreements and DA rejects.

  • Dose, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of your far-right, and factually debunked statement “They are all Guilty”, and a liberal rabbit hole. CF is definitely right that DA’s usually overcharge, innocent people get arrested, law enforcement have bad apples that fabricate evidence and justice is not always served, especially for those without resources. Does this happen 1% of the time, 5% of the time, or 50% of the time. That is the only thing that could be debated. That is the real world.

    • Well, Les Moore, please enlighten all of us how your justice system experience outshines mine – a 30+ year LEO who has made many arrests, filed cases with the DA, testified more times than I can remember, and sat through a bunch of jury trials (some at the prosecutor’s table assisting the prosecutor).

      It’s always the ultra-lib who cites the law enforcement “bad apples” in any discussion of prosecutions. The actual number of such people is minuscule and doesn’t put a thumb on the scales of justice. I’m not squeamish about pointing the finger at bad cops after working IA myself. It’s just not as pervasive as you would want readers here to believe.

      And as far as your assertion that my position is “debunked,” you’re off base. My comment was in reference to the disposition of felony cases – which I take to mean investigated by police, filed by a prosecutor, and past the point of an arraignment by a judge – being largely dispo’d as plea bargains. In each and every one of them, the defendant must admit that there is a factual basis for the guilty (or no contest) please and waive a jury trial. That is what paints each one of them as guilty.

  • The author of this textual vomit needs to use his head!
    First off, since the statistical years (2016), California’s justice system has been the most “limp-wristed”, with the advent of laws like AB109, Prop 57, Prop 47, and such, you really have to try hard to be charged, much less convicted, of a felony! Crime has been de-criminalized. The courts have been all but castrated!
    In my experience with dealing with deputy district attorneys (DAs), they’ve instructed me, and other members of the law enforcement community, how to “dot our I’s and cross our T’s” when writing a crime report, and how to meticulously collect our evidence so as to not compromise the integrity of the case overall. Even with all that attention to detail, it is still not guaranteed that our case will be filed, much less as a felony.
    In addition, many of these small-time criminals eventually end up escalating their criminal activities into felonies. When 10 years ago, they could have been taken off the streets and committed to prison, today, they are allowed to carry on criminally, continue catching summary probation cases, continue engaging in drug abuse, and continue victimizing members of the community.
    The justice system may have to be reverted back to the way it was 10 years ago (prior to AB109)if these felony conviction rates are higher than they were, say, 10 years ago. It may be possible that all this legislation, and the pro-therapeutic approach, was all for nothing.
    This author needs to stop being a whiny little bitch, and go out to skid row or South LA to see what’s really going on.

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