Are You Committing a “Serious Felony” in California?

Originally Published August 20, 2020

Each state has different laws when dealing with crimes. In California, some felony offenses can have serious consequences.

The state’s Penal Code 1192.7 provides that certain crimes are automatically considered as a strike offense. This usually applies to serious felony charges. But simple misdemeanors may also count as a strike offense depending on the aggravating circumstances.

Under California’s three-strikes law, the more strike offenses you commit, the longer your prison term will be. If you are convicted of a strike offense and have had a prior conviction for a serious felony, your prison term will be doubled. If you are convicted of a strike offense for the third time, expect a sentence of at least 25 years to life imprisonment.


Not all felony charges are considered as a strike offense. Penal Code 1192.7 specifically mentions the following crimes as a serious felony and shall be treated as a strike offense:

  1. murder or voluntary manslaughter;
  2. attempted murder;
  3. arson;
  4. mayhem;
  5. rape;
  6. commission of rape or sexual penetration in concert with another person;
  7. kidnapping;
  8. carjacking;
  9. sodomy or oral intercourse by force, violence, duress, menace, the threat of great bodily injury, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the victim or another person;
  10. lewd or lascivious acts on a child below 14 years old;
  11. any burglary of the first degree;
  12. robbery or bank robbery;
  13. any felony (attempted or otherwise) punishable by death or life imprisonment in a state prison;
  14. any felony in which the defendant personally inflicts great bodily injury on any person, other than an accomplice;
  15. any felony in which the defendant personally uses a firearm;
  16. exploding a destructive device or any explosive with intent to injure or murder;
  17. exploding a destructive device or any explosive causing bodily harm, great bodily injury or mayhem;
  18. assault with intent to commit rape or robbery;
  19. assault with a deadly weapon or instrument on a peace officer, public transit employee, custodial officer, or school employee;
  20. assault with a deadly weapon, firearm, machinegun, assault weapon, or semiautomatic firearm or assault on a peace officer or firefighter;
  21. assault by a life prisoner on a non-inmate;
  22. assault with a deadly weapon by an inmate;
  23. assault with the intent to commit mayhem, rape, sodomy, or oral copulation;
  24. hostage-taking by an inmate in a state prison;
  25. selling, furnishing, administering, giving, or offering to sell, furnish, administer, or give to a minor any heroin, cocaine, phencyclidine (PCP), or any methamphetamine-related drug;
  26. throwing acid or flammable substances;
  27. discharge of a firearm at an inhabited dwelling, vehicle, or aircraft
  28. shooting from a vehicle
  29. continuous sexual abuse of a child;
  30. intimidation of victims or witnesses;
  31. criminal threats
  32. attempts or conspiracy to commit any crime stated above aside from assault;
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Aggravating circumstances can also elevate minor offenses from misdemeanors to serious felonies.


In legal terms, aggravating circumstances refer to factors that increase the severity and liability of a crime. Common examples are:

  • the heinousness of the crime
  • lack of remorse on the part of the perpetrator
  • previous conviction of another crime

Most of the time, an aggravating circumstance can lead to a harsher punishment.

For instance, a simple drug possession offense is usually charged as a misdemeanor. But if hundreds of kilos of illegal drugs are found in your possession, it increases the heinousness of the crime. As such, the jury can use it as an aggravating circumstance and raise your crime to a felony.

However, the recognition of an aggravating circumstance usually depends on the jurisdiction. In  California, for example, the Supreme court held that aggravating circumstances can only be used to inflict harsher punishments only when such is proven to be true beyond reasonable doubt.


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Judy Ponio an author for GlobalTel


Judy Ponio is a firm believer in the power of sharing knowledge. Having extensive experience in the prison industry, she wants to share what she knows with the world. Judy also loves to write about political and legal topics.