What Are “wobblers” in California Criminal Law?

June 2, 2013  •  Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

Like any other profession, the world of criminal law has its own lingo.    Go into any criminal lawyers office, any courtroom and you’ll hear the word “wobbler” thrown around quite a bit.   So what is it?

In California, there a wide variety of offenses that can be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors.  These offenses are wobblers.  What sort of felonies are wobblers?  Well, too many to list here, but here are a few of the most common:

    • Domestic violence or spousal battery with injury (Penal Code 273.5)
    • Grand Theft (Penal Code 487)
    • Possession of certain controlled substances (Health and Safety Code 11377)
    • Possession of concentrated cannabis (aka hash) (Health and Safety Code 11357(a))
    • Driving Under the Influence with Injury (Vehicle Code Section 23153)
    • Sexual penetration with a foreign object where victim is a minor (Penal Code 288(h)
    • Criminal Threats (Penal Code Section 422)
    • Resisting arrest by force (Penal Code 69)

So how does the prosecutor decide whether to file a charge as a felony or a misdemeanor? It depends on the severity of the alleged conduct and the defendant’s criminal history.  For example, if  a guy with no criminal record or arrests is accused of hitting is girlfriend and it leaves a small bruise or other minor injury, that may very well be charged as a misdemeanor.  If someone with a series of arrests or prior convictions is accused of the same thing, even if the priors are unrelated to the current charge, a felony may be filed.   Along those lines, if the injury is more serious, it may be filed as a felony even if the injury is not severe.  It also largely depends on the policies of the individual prosecutor’s office.  Even within the same county, each prosecutor’s office in each courthouse has a different policy.

 The other thing to know about wobblers is that even if the case if filed as a felony, it gives your attorney some room to try and reduce the charge to a misdemeanor – either at a preliminary hearing or through negotiating with the DA.    Even if someone is convicted of a felony, if the charge is a wobbler, they may be eligible for the case to be reduced to a misdemeanor through the expungement process.
If you want to know more about wobblers, or to discuss your criminal case in general, call me for a free confidential consultation at 310-210-0744.
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