In California, there are certain criminal offenses that can be filed by prosecutors as either a felony or a misdemeanor. These offenses are commonly referred to as “wobblers.” When making a filing decision, prosecutors will consider factors such as the defendant’s criminal history and the specific facts of the case. If the facts of the case are particularly egregious or if the defendant has a lengthy criminal history, the prosecutor may decide to file the case as a felony. Alternatively, if the defendant has no criminal record and there are facts that mitigate the defendant’s culpability, the prosecution may elect to file the case as a misdemeanor.
There are many offenses that qualify as “wobblers.” Some of the more popular “wobbler” crimes include burglary in violation of California Penal Code Section 459 PC, DUI causing injury per California Vehicle Code Section 23153 VC and spousal battery under California Penal Code Section 273.5 PC. Usually, a defendant will not know whether he or she will be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor until the charges are actually filed by the prosecutor. The arresting or investigating officer will submit the case for filing consideration and may make a recommendation. The District Attorney’s Office will review all potential filings for felonies. If the filing District Attorney ultimately determines that misdemeanor charges are more appropriate, he or she may file the case as a misdemeanor or send it to the City Attorney’s office that handles misdemeanor prosecutions in the jurisdiction.
The difference between a misdemeanor conviction and a felony conviction is significant. People who are convicted of felonies can be sentenced to lengthy prison terms, while the maximum sentence on a misdemeanor is a year in county jail. In addition, people who are convicted of felonies will lose certain rights, such as the right to own or possess firearms and the right to vote. This would not occur for many misdemeanors. There are also many collateral consequences that accompany a felony conviction; and people who are convicted of felonies may have great difficulty finding a job or suitable housing.
While most misdemeanor offenses only have a one year statute of limitations, “wobbler” offenses that are charged as misdemeanors would be subject to the limitations period that would apply to the felony. This means that a prosecutor has three years to charge a defendant with DUI causing injury even if the case is ultimately filed as a misdemeanor. If the defendant was only charged with DUI in violation of California Vehicle Code Section 23152 VC, the prosecution would only have a year to file charges.
Even where a “wobbler” is initially filed as a felony, it can still be reduced to a misdemeanor. In many cases, the prosecutor may agree to reduce the charge as part of a plea negotiation. Additionally, a defendant who is charged with a felony level offense is entitled to a preliminary hearing to determine whether or not there is probable cause to proceed to trial. At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, the judge can reduce a “wobbler” felony to a misdemeanor under California Penal Code Section 17(b) PC and the defendant would then be able to plead “guilty” or “no contest” directly to the Court.
If the defendant is ultimately convicted of a “wobbler” felony, he or she may be able to have the case reduced to a misdemeanor. This can be done while the defendant is still on probation for the felony offense or after the probation period has expired. In order to have the case reduced, there must have been a grant of probation. If the defendant was sentenced to serve a prison sentence, he or she would not be eligible for a California Penal Code Section 17(b) PC reduction. If the defendant was sentenced to serve time in county jail as a condition or probation, he or she would be able eligible to have the felony reduced to a misdemeanor.
If you have been arrested for a “wobbler” offense, it is imperative that you meet with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer right away. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut understands how best to defend clients charged with these types of offenses. In many cases, Mr. Kraut’s early intervention has led to prosecutors reducing charges to misdemeanors or rejecting charges altogether.
For more information about Los Angeles “wobbler” offenses, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.