Criminal offenses are typically classified as felonies or misdemeanors depending on the severity of the alleged crime, a defendant’s criminal history, and the penalties that may be imposed upon 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. While crimes must always be either a felony or misdemeanor, there are some charges known as “wobblers,” which are crimes where unique factors may influence whether a defendant will be charged with a felony or misdemeanor.
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. It can also help you understand the importance of working with experienced criminal defense lawyers who can work toward minimizing the severity of allegations and penalties you face. That’s precisely what our award-winning legal team at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP does for our clients.
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 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 civil rights, including the right to bear arms and the right to vote. They can also create considerable consequences and limitations for individuals, especially those employed in certain professions, those who seek new employment, and more.
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 wobbler 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 a number of factors, including their criminal record, whether there were victims and who those victims were, whether a defendant was on probation, and whether other crimes or aggravating circumstances were present. Assault with a deadly weapon, certain forms of elder abuse, burglary and theft are examples of wobblers.
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The classification of a charge is an extremely important issue in any criminal case, as this will influence the penalties a defendant may face. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys 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. By leveraging decades of experience and extensive insight into how prosecutors file charges, we provide the proven defense defendants need to protect their freedoms and futures. Contact us today to discuss a case during a free and confidential consultation.