In each state, crimes are categorized depending on the nature and severity of the unlawful act as either felonies, misdemeanors, or infractions. These categories are usually defined under the state’s penal cord as follows:
- Felonies: Crimes that are punishable with death or by imprisonment in the state prison system or by imprisonment in county jail.
- Misdemeanors: Crimes that carry a maximum sentence of one year in county jail.
- Infractions: Crimes that are punishable by a maximum fine (usually in the area of $250) and that do not subject the offender to incarceration or probation.
In other words, infarctions generally cover traffic offenses and other minor crimes. Misdemeanors are crimes that cannot be punished by more than one year in jail and felonies are serious crimes for which an offender can be sentenced to more than a year in prison or even to death in some states. These classifications are fairly straightforward, however, in many states, there are also crimes that are known as “wobblers.”
Wobblers: Crimes that Can be Charged as Either Misdemeanors or Felonies
A wobbler is a criminal offense that can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. For these crimes, it is within the prosecutor’s discretion whether they will try the offense as a misdemeanor or as a felony. The prosecutor makes this decision based on both the facts of the case and on the defendant’s criminal history. There most common examples of wobblers include:
- Sexual battery
- Assault with a deadly weapon
- Grand theft
Because wobbler crimes sit on the fence that divides felonies from misdemeanors, in the interest of fairness there are some circumstances under which a judge will reduce a wobbler felony conviction to a misdemeanor.
Reducing Felony Convictions to Misdemeanors
It is important to know that some felony offenses can be reduced to misdemeanors if the right circumstances are present. For example, in some states, wobbler felony convictions can be reduced to misdemeanors if the following two requirements are met:
- The defendant was convicted of a wobbler crime as a felony
- The defendant was sentenced to felony probation for the offense.
If the two requirements listed above are met, a judge has the power to reduce a wobbler felony to a misdemeanor offense after the preliminary hearing has concluded, at sentencing, or after the offender has been sentenced and has completed their felony probation.
Regardless of when a judge is asked to grant a felony reduction, he or she will take the same factors into account when making their decision. These factors include the nature and severity of the offense, the facts of the case, whether or not the offender has complied with the terms of their probation, the offender’s criminal history, and the offender’s personal history. All relevant mitigating and aggravating factors will be taken into consideration and weighed by the presiding judge.
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Thanks to the Morales Law Firm for their insight into criminal law and your constitutional rights.