Criminal cases range from relatively minor offenses such as traffic infractions to serious ones like robbery and murder. The State, as the protector of all the people, makes the charge against someone accused of committing a crime because a crime is considered an act against society. Only the State, through the office of the District Attorney in each county, can charge individuals with criminal violations. The prosecuting attorney presents the charge against the accused person (defendant) on behalf of the State (plaintiff), and must prove to the judge or jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
California statutes generally classify a crime as either a felony or a misdemeanor. A felony is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment in a state prison or by death. A misdemeanor is a lesser offense than a felony and generally is punishable by fine or imprisonment in county jail rather than in a state penitentiary.