In California, a “wobbler” refers to a crime that can be punished as either a felony or a misdemeanor. It is typically the prosecutor who has the discretion to charge them either as misdemeanors or as felonies. However, the judge also has discretion to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor as well.
Why does this matter?
California recognizes three types of offenses, listed from most serious to least serious:
- Misdemeanors, and
Crimes that can only be prosecuted as a felony are referred to as “straight felonies.” However, other crimes can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor and are referred to as “wobbler” crimes.
Disadvantages of a Felony in California
The felony/misdemeanor distinction is critical because felonies are much more serious and carry harsher punishment. A felony by definition is a crime for which a person can be sent to prison for over a year. Often times the most severe repercussions occur after the court case is complete.
Consequences of a felony conviction may include having to disclose the conviction on job applications, loss of one’s gun rights, loss of professional license, and longer and more restrictive probation (if granted).
When can a “wobbler” be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor?
There are four different stages where a wobbler crime can be reduced to a misdemeanor:
- When the prosecutor charges the offense;
- At a felony preliminary hearing;
- At sentencing; or
- After the defendant has completed felony (formal) probation and filed a petition to reduce a felony conviction to a misdemeanor.
Common California “wobbler” Offenses
- PC 192(c)(1) and (2) – Vehicular manslaughter
- PC 273.5 – Spousal battery
- PC 243.4 – Sexual battery
- PC 422 – Making criminal threats
- PC 245(a)(1) – Assault with a deadly weapon
- PC 261.5 – Statutory rape
- PC 271 – Child endangerment
- PC 288 – Lewd acts with a minor
- PC 459 – Burglary
- PC 470 – Forgery
- PC 487 – Grand theft
- PC 646.9(a) – Stalking
- PC 25850(a) – Carrying a loaded firearm in public