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California Felonies

The California Penal Code §17(a) defines a felony as “a crime which is punishable with death or by imprisonment in the state prison. Every other crime or public offense is a misdemeanor except those offenses that are classified as infractions.” That is difficult to grasp for many but essentially a felony is a serious crime and in California classifies its felonies into named categories: White Collar, Drug, Sex, and Violent and Serious Felonies.

The very lowest level felonies are crimes that the prosecutor may elect to file as either a California misdemeanor or a felony, based on the facts of the case and a persons criminal history. We call these “Wobblers” because they can be filed either way – as a felony or a misdemeanor.

When charged as a felony, the wobbler offense is typically punishable by
1- probation and up to one year in the county jail or
2- a sentence of 16 months, or two or three years in the state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.

Examples of “wobblers” include spousal battery, criminal threats, and forgery. If probation is granted and successfully completed, wobbler felonies are eligible for a reduction to a misdemeanor (Penal Code 17(b)) and then they may be expunged from your record. (Penal Code 1203.4)

There are also straight felonies. These are more serious felonies and cannot be filed as misdemeanors and are not eligible for reduction or expungement. Many of these straight felonies have sentence ranges that include:

1- probation and up to one year in the county jail or
2- different sentences based on the crime in the state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.

For example, 1st-degree Residential Burglary can have the following sentences:

1- probation and up to one year in the county jail or
2- 2, 4 or 6 years in the state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.

Finally, the most serious felonies are ineligible for probation and carry mandatory prison sentences – those defendants that have a prior “strike” conviction, are legally ineligible for probation (although some drug possession charges are exempt from this provision).