When someone is arrested and charged with a crime, a lot of questions and concerns typically come up. What is the alleged crime? What are the potential punishments? How long will a trial take? Will I spend the time leading up to trial in jail? All these questions are natural and valid, and are best answered by a criminal defense attorney experienced with the type of offense at issue. A key issue related to the crime is figuring out at how the offense will be classified. In other words, is it a misdemeanor, a felony or what is termed a “wobbler” under California law? This information determines the possible punishments a defendant is facing, and thus has a huge impact on the outcome of the case. While these terms may seem basic, the way crimes are classified under each quickly becomes very nuanced.
Misdemeanors are less serious crimes and bring a maximum potential sentence of one year in the county jail. Most misdemeanor crimes come with a jail sentence of up to six months and/or fines of $1,000. Examples of a standard misdemeanor include petty theft, public drunkenness and vandalism. In addition to these standard misdemeanors, there are aggravated or gross misdemeanors that carry the maximum jail sentence and higher fines, such as repeated DUI charges and domestic battery. These offenses generally relate to behavior that the state wants to highly discourage but does not rise to the level of seriousness accorded to felonies. While a judge is authorized to order jail time, probation is more commonly ordered as the sentence for a misdemeanor conviction. California jails are notoriously overcrowded, and unless the court believes an individual poses a real danger, jail time is a very unlikely sentence. Probation means the offender must comply with conditions imposed by the court to avoid jail time, and unlike felony probation, only involves periodic meetings with the court instead of supervision by a probation officer.
Felony crimes are more serious offenses, and bring sentences of at least one year in county jail or state prison. Obvious examples are murder and robbery. Prison sentences are divided into low, high and middle terms. Most people receive the middle term, unless there are aggravating factors (e.g., extreme violence) justifying the higher term or mitigating factors (e.g., minimal involvement in the crime) to validate the lower term. Fines up to $10,000 can also be imposed in addition to or instead of jail/prison time. Again, because of prison overcrowding, probation is a common sentence to replace jail time. Felony probation involves supervision by a probation officer, so regular check-ins are mandatory, usually on a monthly basis. The purpose of these meetings is to verify the person is complying with the conditions ordered by the court, including confirming employment and/or administering drug tests. Failure to attend these meetings is a violation of probation in and of itself, and could result in prison time.
Finally, wobblers are offenses that can be charged as either misdemeanor or felony offenses. Examples include domestic violence, burglary and fraud. The prosecutor looks at the specific facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history to decide which type to charge. There are numerous crimes that qualify as wobblers in California, and the implications of felony charges are significantly different than those of a misdemeanor. Important rights are lost with felony convictions, which is why hiring an experienced defense attorney who can effectively argue a misdemeanor charge is more appropriate is crucial to a positive outcome.
Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer
Being charged with a crime is easily one of the most frightening things a person can experience. If you are facing this situation, hire a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. There are many steps in criminal cases, and numerous time limits and restrictions that come into play that reduce a person’s options. Getting a criminal defense attorney early on can prevent a loss of important rights and give you the best chance at a good outcome. The Los Angeles Manshoory Law Group, APC has attorneys ready to assist you 24/7 with your case. Contact us for a free consultation.