Wobbler Laws

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What’s a “Wobbler”?

In a criminal law setting, a “Wobbler” is a crime that can either be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony.  Such crimes are said to “wobble” between these two main classifications of crimes.  Whether a wobbler results in felony or misdemeanor charge will depend on the circumstances surrounding each incident of crime.   

Determining what is a felony or what is a misdemeanor depends on state laws.  In most states, misdemeanors result in criminal fines of no more than $1,000 and a jail sentence of no more than one year.  Felonies usually result in a fine of greater than $1,000 and a sentence in prison for more than one year.  Thus, the legal penalties for a wobbler crime can vary greatly depending on whether it’s charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. 

The term “wobbler” is not a formal legal term; it’s used as a figure of speech to describe such crimes.  Another term that’s sometimes used is hybrid crime. 

What are Some Examples of Wobbler Offenses?

Some common examples of wobblers include:

Some states have more wobblers laws in their penal code than others.  For example, California has over one hundred different crimes that can either be a felony or a misdemeanor.  One of the most common wobblers is grand theft, because sentencing often depends on the value of the property stolen.  Wobblers are also common in cases involving juvenile delinquency.

What’s an “Aggravating Factor”?

In most cases involving wobblers, the consideration of aggravating factors is very important.  An aggravating factor is any fact that would elevate a misdemeanor to a felony charge.  For example, a misdemeanor such as a battery can become a felony if a deadly weapon was used.  The weapon in this case is the aggravating factor. 

Other aggravating factors include:  whether serious bodily injury or death resulted from the crime; whether alcohol or intoxicants were involved; and the class of the victim (such as a police officer, woman, or child). 

Can I get a Felony Charge Reduced to a Misdemeanor?

In most jurisdictions, wobbler laws usually work by having charges reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, and not the other way around.  This is especially true if the defendant has already pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.  It’s common practice for prosecutors to file a charge as a felony, with the aim of having the sentence reduced to a misdemeanor if the defendant pleads guilty. 

One common reason to have a felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor is if there is no aggravating factor present.  For example, if evidence shows that the defendant did not actually use a weapon in an assault, they might have the felony charge reduced to misdemeanor battery charge. 

How Can a Lawyer Help with Wobbler Charges?

Wobbler crimes can present some difficulties to defendants because of their complex nature.  If you need assistance with wobbler charges, you may wish to contact a lawyer for help.  A qualified criminal lawyer in your area can provide you with defense during trial, and can help by explaining the laws that apply to you.  An experienced criminal attorney will be knowledgeable of the wobbler laws in your area.

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Last Modified: 05-18-2012 11:16 AM PDT

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