California Crimes: Misdemeanors, Felonies, and ‘Wobblers’ – Understanding the Difference

As seasoned Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys, we understand that many people do not really know the difference between a misdemeanor and felony offense.  In California, there are also criminal offenses that are classified as “wobblers,” which simply means that the crime may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, at the prosecutor’s discretion.

Generally speaking, misdemeanors are crimes that would be considered less serious than felonies, and are punishable by a maximum of one year in a county jail.  Felony offenses are those that are more serious, and incur penalties which include one year or more in state prison.

What are the most common crimes which are usually charged as misdemeanors?  There are really two categories of misdemeanor crimes, standard and aggravated.  Examples of standard misdemeanors include public intoxication and petty theft.  Aggravated misdemeanor offenses include simple assault, simple battery, and DUI (driving under the influence).  The criminal penalties for a conviction on a standard misdemeanor offense include fines of up to $1,000 and a maximum of 6 months in county jail.

Felony charges are very different, as they can range from offenses that are relatively minor to those that result in a prison term of life behind bars for a defendant who is found guilty.  It’s also important to note that a felony that is considered particularly serious or violent may result as a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes Law.  A second strike leads to enhanced penalties; a third strike on a defendant’s criminal record may result in a lifetime prison term.  Felony offenses include robbery, drug possession for sale, rape, residential burglary, murder, and many others.

Which crimes are classified as “wobblers” in California?  Theft, assault with a deadly weapon, and burglary are just a few examples.  The prosecutor will determine whether to charge the defendant with a misdemeanor or felony based on several factors, including the defendant’s criminal history, the severity of the offense, and other circumstances or details of the case.

Regardless of whether a charge is classified as a misdemeanor or felony, it is highly recommended that those accused of any criminal offense contact a seasoned defense lawyer immediately.  Unless you are highly knowledgeable in how the law works, you may not realize that a skilled attorney can often get a felony offenses reduced to a misdemeanor, or even have a misdemeanor charge reduced to an infraction.  Ultimately, this means the defendant will face punishment that is less harsh and has a less damaging impact on his or her future.

To ensure the strongest, most effective legal support and guidance, count on The Justice Firm.