What Is a “Wobbler” Offense in California?

There are some crimes in California when a prosecutor has the discretion to file the case as either a misdemeanor or felony misdemeanor crime – commonly known as a “wobbler.” When making their decision, they normally take into consideration different factors – such as the specific circumstances of case and prior criminal record.

For instance, if you have a lengthy record of crimes, they are much more likely to file the wobbler case as a felony. If you have no criminal record and there are mitigating factors that limit your culpability, they are much more likely to file the wobbler case as a misdemeanor.

The phrase “wobbler” is often used in criminal courts in Los Angeles with regards to penalties and sentencing on some crimes. It should be noted a judge could also make the decision to punish a wobbler as a misdemeanor crime, even in a situation where you were convicted of a felony wobbler crime. In some case, you could even petition the court to reduce your felony conviction to a misdemeanor.

There are a wide range of crimes in California that qualify as a wobbler. For example, some theft crimes, fraud crimes, sex crimes, and domestic violence related crimes.

In most situations, you will not know if your case has been filed as a misdemeanor or felony crime until prosecutor formally files charges. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office reviews all possible filings for a felony case. If they determine the case is better suited for a misdemeanor filing, they will send the case over to the Los Angeles County City Attorney’s Office, who handles all misdemeanor cases.

If you are in a situation where you have been charged with a wobbler offense, you should contact our law firm to review the details and to start planning a strategy for best outcome.

To give readers a better understanding of wobbler crimes and the impact of penalties and sentencing, our California criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below.

What’s the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and Felony?

A prosecutor’s decision on how to file a case is important as the difference between a misdemeanor or felony conviction is significant.

For example, a felony conviction could result in state prison time and losing your right to own or possess a gun. A felony conviction will also make it difficult for secure employment, locate housing, and you might even lose a professional license.

A misdemeanor conviction only carries a maximum sentence of up to one year in a county jail with no loss on gun rights.

There are also some crimes known as a “wobblette” – meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor crime or a simple infraction – which is not a criminal conviction. For example, California Vehicle Code Violations like exhibition of speed or driving on a suspended driver’s license.

Also, most misdemeanor crimes in California have a one-year statute of limitations – meaning it prohibits a prosecutor from filing charges against you after one year has passed. For a felony case, the statute of limitations is three years.

What are the Main Factors Considered by a Prosecutor?

As stated, the prosecutor has the discretion on how to file a case as either a misdemeanor or felony on some California crimes. In most cases, a prosecutor will base their decision on a wide range of main factors:

  • Strength of evidence in the case against you
  • Specific circumstances and severity of your crime
  • Age and prior criminal history
  • Possibility of further criminal conduct
  • Cooperation with law enforcement
  • Probation eligibility

If the details of your case are severe, and you have a prior record, it’s safe to assume your case will be filed as a felony. There are situations where our criminal defense attorneys might be able to make a reasonable argument to the prosecutor that your conduct doesn’t warrant a felony filing.

We could also utilize a pre-filing intervention strategy, which is a process of negotiating with the prosecutor in an attempt to avoid formal filing of charges.

It should be noted that California Penal Code 17(b) also gives a judge the discretion to reduce a wobbler felony case to a misdemeanor case – which is normally decided at the preliminary hearing, sentencing, or after you lawyer files a PC 17(b) petition to reduce felony to misdemeanor.

Again, a judge can reduce a wobbler felony to a misdemeanor – if they are shown mitigating circumstances – meaning factors for a judge to be lenient. For example, no criminal record, voluntary cooperation, minimal role in the crime, good behavior on probation, paying victim restitution, and other factors.

There is a lengthy list of wobbler offenses in the state of California. The list below is NOT a complete list, but rather includes the most common wobbler charges

Common California “Wobbler” Offenses

Penal Code 192(c) – Vehicular Manslaughter
Penal Code 422 – Criminal Threats
Penal Code 270 – Child Neglect
Penal Code 271 – Child Endangerment
Penal Code 273.5 – Corporal Injury to Spouse
Penal Code 136.1 – Witness Intimidation
Penal Code 646.9(a) – Stalking
Penal Code 243(c) – Battery on Police with Injury
Penal Code 245(a)(1) – Assault with Deadly Weapon
Penal Code 32 – Accessory After the Fact
Penal Code 186.10 – Money Laundering
Penal Code 496 – Receiving Stolen Property
Penal Code 503 – Embezzlement
Penal Code 459 – Burglary
Penal Code 470 – Forgery
Penal Code 487 – Grand Theft
Penal Code 243.4 – Sexual Battery
Penal Code 261.5 – Statutory Rape
Vehicle Code 23153 – DUI Causing Injury

It should be noted it might be possible to obtain an expungement for a wobbler conviction, which means it doesn’t have to be listed on any job application, but to be eligible, you must have successfully completed probation, or were granted early probation of termination.

It should also be noted you won’t be eligible for expungement if you were convicted of a sex crime against a minor, or if you served time in a state prison in California.

Contact Cron, Israels & Stark for Help

If you are charged with a wobbler crime, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys are well-versed in the arguments for negotiating with the prosecutor or judge in order to achieve minimal penalties, such as getting your potential felony case filed as a misdemeanor, or even a case dismal.

As explained above, there is a significant difference between a misdemeanor and felony case.

Cron, Israels & Stark is a criminal defense law firm with decades of experience who serve clients throughout Southern California. Our office is located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025. Contact us for a free case evaluation at (424) 372-3112.