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Reduce a Felony Conviction to Misdemeanor – California Penal Code 17(b)

Posted by Sam Israels | Feb 03, 2020

Reducing a felony conviction on your criminal record to a misdemeanor is described under California Penal Code Section 17(b). In other words, if you were convicted of certain California felony crimes, you have a chance of getting them reduced to a misdemeanor crime.

This means a felony conviction is not always permanent.  In California, there are many “wobbler” crimes, which means a criminal case can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony offense.  Determining whether a “wobbler” is a misdemeanor or felony is made by a prosecutor when charging allegations are formally filed, or a judge at sentencing.

Under California Penal Code § 17(b), a “wobbler” can be changed by a judge from a felony crime to a misdemeanor crime if you are eligible, and after a motion was filed in the court. The judge also has the discretion to reduce a felony offense even if the prosecutor objects to the action.

A Penal Code 17(b) motion is highly discretionary and you should retain a criminal defense lawyer to review the details and provide advice on how to proceed with a petition to reduce.

The benefits of reducing a felony conviction to a misdemeanor are numerous. For instance, if you are asked on an employee application if you were ever convicted of a felony, you can honestly answer “no.” Clearly, this alone could increase your chances of securing a job. Another potential benefit is the restoration of your California gun rights.

To give readers a better understanding of reducing a felony conviction to a misdemeanor under Penal Code 17(b), our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys are providing an overview below.

What Felony Crimes Are Eligible for a Reduction?

California Penal Code 17(b) says in order to be eligible for reduction, you must have been convicted of a “wobbler,” granted probation, and not sentenced to serve time in a California state prison, or received a suspended sentence.

Recall that a “wobbler” is an offense that can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Some common examples of California “wobbler” offenses include:

Penal Code 459 – Burglary
Penal Code 487(a) – Grand theft
Penal Code Section 245 – Assault with a deadly weapon
Penal Code Section 273.5 – Corporal injury to spouse
Penal Code 422 – Criminal threats
Penal Code 243.4 – Sexual battery
Penal Code 288 – Lewd acts with a minor

This list above doesn't include all eligible offenses. There are also many California sex and fraud crimes eligible for reduction from a felony to misdemeanor.

Again, it's crucial to note that only felony wobbler crimes can be reduced to misdemeanors, meaning all “straight” felony crimes can't be reduced to a misdemeanor.

What are the Eligibility Requirements?

It should be noted that not all felony offenses can be reduced to a misdemeanor. To qualify for a PC 17b reduction, your underlying offense must have been a wobbler. You must have been granted and successfully completed probation, including paying all fines.

Also, you must have not served a California state prison sentence, or a sentence where execution of a prison sentence was suspended.

It should be noted that under AB 109, California realignment, a state prison sentence for some felony crimes was replaced with a sentence in county jail. This means you wouldn't be eligible for a reduction.

A Penal Code 17(b) motion to reduce felony to misdemeanor is normally filed after you successfully completed probation, or probation was terminated early. The judge also has the discretion to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor after your preliminary hearing, or at sentencing on your felony case.

What Factors Are Considered by Court for a PC 17(b) Motion?

The process of a 17(b) motion to reduce a felony begins with filing a motion with the court where a hearing date will be scheduled. The prosecutor must be served and given sufficient notice. At the reduction hearing, both the criminal lawyer and prosecutor will be given a chance to present an argument.

The court uses several primary factors to decide whether to grant of deny the motion, including:

  • Whether you completed all the terms of probation
  • Whether all fines were paid, including restitution, if any
  • Specific nature and circumstances of underling offense
  • Your prior criminal record
  • Any Recommendation from probation department

It should be noted it's not uncommon for a prosecutor to argue against granting a motion to reduce felony to misdemeanor.

Once the hearing is completed, the judge will then make a ruling on the motion.  If granted, your case is reduced to a misdemeanor and often a first step to an expungement under California Penal Code 1203.4. 

What are the Benefits to a Successful Penal Code 17(b) Reduction?

A felony conviction on your record is a significant barrier to obtaining employment, housing, or social services. A misdemeanor record won't normally impact your life to the same extent. You will no longer be recognized as a convicted felon.

For example, by law, a convicted felon can't own or possess a firearm. If your California Penal Code 17(b) motion to reduce felony was successful and you don't have other felony convictions, you can get your gun rights restored.

Another benefit is that you don't have to admit you were convicted of a felony crime, which is a significant benefit for employment opportunities or enlisting in the military.

However, there are some penalties that still apply after a successful reduction. For example, if your underlying offense was a California serious or violent felony crime, then the conviction will still be a “strike” for the purposes of California's three strikes law.

Additionally, if you were required to register as a sex offender under California Penal Code Section 290, then the requirement remains after the reduction.

If you want to pursue filing a California Penal Code 17(b) motion to reduce a felony to misdemeanor, we can help you present the court with supporting documentation to justify the motion.

We need to first review all the details in order to determine eligibility and discuss options. Cron, Israels & Stark is a criminal defense law firm located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025. 

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About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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