Under California law, there are a number of felony criminal offenses that can reduced to misdemeanors.
These offenses are known as “wobbler” charges. However, not all felonies are eligible for misdemeanor reduction. “Straight felonies” that must only be prosecuted as felonies include offenses like murder, first-degree burglary and rape.
If you have been charged with a felony crime that is eligible for misdemeanor reduction, it is well worth looking into having your charges reduced. A criminal defense attorney can help to determine the best strategy for having your felony reduced and work to ensure that you don’t need to suffer the consequences of having a felony on your record.
- What is a “wobbler” charge?
- Benefits of getting your charges reduced
- How can a felony be reduced to a misdemeanor?
- Having your charges reduced in California
- Can my criminal record be expunged?
What is a “wobbler” charge?
A “wobbler” offense is one that the prosecutor can charge as either a felony or a misdemeanor. In California, there are many wobbler offenses like burglary, spousal battery, and grand theft.
Depending on the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history, it may be possible to have a wobbler charge reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor:
- Following the preliminary hearing,
- At the time of sentencing following a “guilty” plea or verdict or a plea of “no contest,” or
- After the terms of probation have been completed.
Benefits of getting your charges reduced
Felony offenses are serious, and a felony conviction comes with significant ramifications. While a misdemeanor will still appear on your criminal record, it is much less likely to negatively impact major aspects of your life such as your ability to gain employment. It is worth doing everything you can to avoid having a felony on your record. The benefits of having a felony charge reduced are numerous. Some of the most notable benefits include:
- Not having to disclose a felony conviction when applying for a job, loan, professional license, or housing
- Retaining or restoring your gun rights
- The ability to have your record expunged
How can a felony be reduced to a misdemeanor?
The laws regarding felony charges differ from state to state. However, in most states, there are 4 ways that a felony conviction can be reduced to a misdemeanor. A criminal defense attorney can help determine which of the four ways would be the most effective for your case. The four most common ways to reduce a felony conviction are:
Complete felony probation
For certain criminal offenses, it may be possible to request to have your felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor after completing felony probation. In order to be eligible to request a reduction of a felony conviction to a misdemeanor from the court, a defendant must fulfil all the terms of their probation including:
- Meeting with their probation officer
- Not committing another crime while under probation
- Paying court fees and victim restitution, or
- Any other terms set by the court
Reducing a felony to a misdemeanor after completing probation may only be an option for defendants who have been sentenced to probation without prison time. The process for requesting a conviction reduction depends on the state.
Agree to a plea bargain
Plea bargains are one of the most common ways that criminal cases are resolved.
If your defense attorney thinks that a plea deal would be a good strategy for you, they will negotiate with the prosecutor through the plea bargain process. If the prosecutor agrees to the deal, you will be able to plead guilty to a misdemeanor in order to have the felony charges dropped.
Your lawyer can start the plea bargain process as early as your arraignment or at any point before the trial takes place.
Complete a pretrial diversion program
Diversion programs are a way for defendants to obtain rehabilitation services and avoid the criminal justice system. Most diversion programs are for minor offenses or specific types of charges such as:
- Drug possession
- Domestic violence
The types of diversion programs offered, and their requirements, differ from state to state. The eligibility requirements are often strict as are the terms of the program. If the program requires the defendant to plead guilty to the charges, their sentencing will be suspended until the diversion program is completed. Once all the required elements of the diversion program have been completed, the charges will be dropped or reduced.
Demonstrate that the facts of the case don’t support a felony charge
For wobbler offenses, the facts of the case will determine how it is charged. Depending on the offense, if the defendant can show that the facts required to constitute a felony are not present, the prosecutor may have to reduce the charges to a misdemeanor.
Having your charges reduced in California
In California, it is possible to have certain felonies reduced to a misdemeanor by either completing felony probation or a California pretrial diversion program.
A felony can be reduced after felony probation by filing a 17(b) motion. Defendants who are eligible to are a 17(b) motion must have:
- Been convicted of wobbler offense, and
- Been sentenced to probation as opposed to time in county jail or state prison
Some examples of eligible wobbler offenses include:
- Burglary – Penal Code 459 PC
- Criminal threats – Penal Code 422 PC
- Forgery – Penal Code 470 PC
California pretrial diversion programs
The only type of pretrial diversion program available in California for felony-level offenses is a mental health diversion. In order to be approved for a mental health diversion, all the following conditions need to be met:
- The defendant suffers from a diagnosed mental health condition that does not include pedophilia, borderline personality disorder, or antisocial personality disorder
- The defendant’s mental health condition played a significant role in their having committed the alleged offense
- The court does not think the defendant poses a significant risk to public safety
- A qualified mental health profession agrees that the defendant would likely respond well to treatment
- The defendant consents to the pretrial diversion program, agrees to comply with the terms of the program, and waives their right to a speedy trial
Can my criminal record be expunged?
Once you’ve had your felony conviction reduced, it may be possible to have it expunged. Each state’s laws regarding expungement are different. In some states, only certain offenses (most likely misdemeanors) are eligible for expungement. If you want to learn more about how to have your charges reduced or your record expunged, it’s best to seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney who understands your state’s laws.
Robert M. Helfend is a California criminal defense attorney who has represented defendants in thousands of cases over more than three decades. With his extensive legal knowledge and fierce dedication to his clients, he has earned his reputation as one of the top defense attorneys in Los Angeles. Call our office at 800-834-6434 today to learn more about your legal options and how we can assist you through every step of your case.