Criminal offenses are typically classified as felonies or misdemeanors depending on the severity of the alleged crime and the penalties that may be imposed upon a conviction. A felony is more serious and, in California, may be punishable by a year or more in state prison. A misdemeanor is less serious than a felony and is punishable by up to one year in county jail in California. Then there are "wobblers," which are crimes that may be charged as felonies or misdemeanors depending on the unique circumstances surrounding the case.
Understanding the differences between felonies and misdemeanors – and when a wobbler may be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor – can help you better understand what is at stake in the face of criminal charges.
First, let's take a look at misdemeanors. In California, a standard misdemeanor offense may be punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Petty theft and public intoxication are examples of standard misdemeanors. Aggravated misdemeanors, or gross misdemeanors, are slightly more serious and may result in up to 1 year in county jail and an increased fine. Driving under the influence (DUI), simple assault and simple battery are examples of aggravated misdemeanors.
Felonies, as we already mentioned, are more serious than misdemeanors. They are more serious for a number of reasons, not only due to the enhanced penalties that a defendant may face. A "serious" or "violent" felony conviction may count as a " strike" on a defendant's record, invoking enhanced penalties for a second strike and a possible lifetime in prison for a third strike. Felony convictions can also result in the loss of the right to bear arms and the right to vote.
Felonies are typically punishable by a minimum of one year in state prison, though sentences may range all the way to life in prison. Some examples of felonies include: drug possession for sale, residential burglary, robbery, rape and murder.
Quite a few criminal offenses are considered wobblers in California. Whether a crime is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony will depend on the facts of the case, including the severity of the alleged offense and whether the defendant has a criminal record. The prosecutor may decide to charge a defendant with a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances at hand. Assault with a deadly weapon, certain forms of elder abuse, burglary and theft are examples of wobblers.
The classification of a charge is an extremely important issue in any criminal case, as this will influence the penalties that a defendant may face. As Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys, we at Lessem & Newstat, LLP understand how to intervene early on to reduce felonies to misdemeanors, misdemeanors to infractions and even have charges dismissed or never filed in the first place. We have more than eight decades of combined legal experience and are committed to only the highest quality criminal defense counsel. To learn more about our firm, call for a confidential consultation.