Some states have a special form of crime called “wobblers.”
“Wobblers” were created to give judges the discretion to lower the punishments or side effects of certain crimes. Since judges have discretion in such actions, it is important that you have a skilled Los Angeles criminal defense attorney to convince the judge to lower your sentence.
Wobblers are crimes that are typically felonies but may be reduced to misdemeanors at the judge’s discretion. Under California law, a wobbler crime is presumed to be a felony unless the judge in the case decides that a misdemeanor would suffice. The judge has this discretion because California’s government decided that certain crimes, while technically felonies, should not carry the punishments of felonies in the interest of fairness.
What Are Felonies and Misdemeanors?
Under California law, as well as the law of most states, there are three classes of crimes. Crimes are classed based on the seriousness of the punishment that is given to them. A felony is the most serious type of crime.
Felonies are punishable, typically, by a term of imprisonment of 1 year or more.
The second most serious class of crime is a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are punishable, typically, by up to a stay of less than one year in a county jail, rather than a state penitentiary.
The least serious class of offenses in California is called infractions. Infractions are not punishable by any jail time and are not technically considered criminal acts. Infractions are only punishable by fines. Infractions are typically minor traffic tickets.
What Do Judges Consider When Reducing “Wobbler” Felonies to Misdemeanors?
Because the reduction of a felony to a misdemeanor is mostly a matter of discretion for the judge, there is no true formula for determining when a judge should reduce a felony to a misdemeanor. Instead, the California Supreme Court has created a three-part “test” for judges to analyze when making this determination.
The three parts to this “test” are:
- The nature and circumstances of the offense (the seriousness of the crime)
- The defendant’s appreciation of the offense (remorsefulness)
- The defendant’s character
Judges are also permitted to consider the general “objectives” of criminal sentencing, which is to prevent criminals from becoming recidivists or committing more crimes.
California’s “Three Strikes” Law and Wobblers
On the other hand, judges in California are sometimes given the discretion to punish misdemeanor crimes as felonies. The most common example of this is California’s “three strikes” law, which permits judges to give far harsher sentences to defendants who have committed multiple crimes before.
For example, a crime like petty theft is a misdemeanor, but if the person who committed the theft has been convicted of three other crimes in the past, the judge might punish the petty theft as a felony rather than a misdemeanor. In other words, wobblers cut both ways. While they can be used to help out defendants who have committed a felony but are otherwise good people, they can also be used to place a career criminal in prison for somewhat minor crimes.
What Are the Most Common Types of “Wobbler” Crimes?
In California, there are several crimes that are most often placed in the wobbler category. One of these crimes, for example, is vehicular manslaughter, which is when a defendant recklessly causes a vehicle accident that results in someone’s death.
In some cases, a judge might find that a defendant who has committed vehicular manslaughter truly has no chance of recidivism. This can happen when a defendant was negligent, but the accident was truly an accident. In those cases, a judge might decide that a felony punishment is too severe to serve the purpose of sentencing.
What Problems Will a Felony Conviction Cause Me?
Other than the prison time that comes with a felony conviction, you need to be aware of the long-lasting impact of a felony. Being a “felon” is a life-long title that will cause you problems for the remainder of your life. For example, in California, felons can expect to lose certain privileges, such as:
- Being unable to get certain jobs
- Loss of professional licenses, such as a law or medical license
- Inability to possess a gun under federal law
- More serious punishments in the event of further criminal convictions
If you are charged with a felony, you need to hire a skilled criminal defense attorney. Felony convictions are incredibly serious, and you need someone on your side that can help you.
Can the Prosecutor Charge Me with a “Wobbler” Crime?
Judges are not the only officials with discretion to adjust crimes as “wobblers.” In fact, the prosecutor may sometimes bring misdemeanor charges on typical felony crimes if they determine that the crime should be prosecuted as a “wobbler.”
Prosecutors are also given a “test” of factors to consider when determining whether to bring a less serious offense. However, these factors are different from the factors considered by judges because prosecutors have special discretion in bringing charges. The factors that prosecutors consider are:
- The seriousness of the crime
- Whether the defendant cooperated with police
- Whether the defendant has a criminal record
- How old is the defendant is
- Whether the defendant will be able to get probation
- How strong the prosecutor’s case is.
How Can a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Help Me?
The most important thing to know about wobbler crimes is that the increase or reduction of punishments is a matter of discretion by either the judge or the prosecutor. This means that you, or someone on your behalf, might be able to convince the people who have the discretion to lower your sentences.
A skilled Los Angeles criminal defense attorney will have a lot of experience doing just this. They will know how to negotiate with prosecutors, or how to argue to the judge that your sentence should be reduced. They might also be able to have your charges dropped entirely.
When you face criminal charges in California, contact an attorney for a free consultation and case review.