Call Today! Free Immediate Response (818) 781-1570


What Are Wobbler Sex Crimes?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jul 19, 2023

California law identifies some crimes as misdemeanors and others as felonies. Naturally, felony charges come with enhanced penalties upon conviction.

However, a great many crimes, including numerous sex crimes, are identified as "wobbler" offenses, meaning they can be charged either as misdemeanors or felonies.

What Are Wobbler Sex Crimes in California?
A "wobbler" sex crime are those that the prosecutor can file as either a misdemeanor or felony.

Mainly, the prosecutor decides whether to charge a wobbler as a felony or a misdemeanor, but judges can also choose to punish a wobbler as a misdemeanor.

Further, suppose a defendant is convicted of a wobbler felony. In that case, they could file a California Penal Code 17(b) PC petition to reduce a felony conviction to a misdemeanor.

Further, suppose the defendant was not sentenced to prison and completed formal felony probation. In that case, they can file a PC 17(b) petition to reduce a California felony conviction to a misdemeanor. Notably, a “straight” felony cannot later be reduced to a misdemeanor.

A California wobbler crime can be reduced to a misdemeanor at different stages of the criminal case process, including the following:

  • When a prosecutor files the offense;
  • At the felony preliminary hearing;
  • When the defendant's sentencing

If you've been accused of a sex crime in California that classifies you as a "wobbler," it gives your defense attorney an important negotiation strategy to try and get the alleged offenses charged as misdemeanors rather than felonies—or to get felony charges reduced to misdemeanors. Let's review this topic further below.

How Does a Prosecutor Decide How to File a Crime?

California law does not set standards for how a prosecutor charges a wobbler. Simply put, this decision remains within their discretion.

However, prosecutors typically determine how to charge a wobbler under the Uniform Crime Charging Standards published by the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA), which recommend that prosecutors should consider the following factors:

  • Severity of the crime;
  • Defendant's criminal history and age;
  • Probability of further criminal conduct;
  • Whether the defendant is eligible for probation;
  • Strength of the prosecutor's case;
  • Level of cooperation with law enforcement.

Can a Judge Reduce a Felony to a Misdemeanor?

Yes. Penal Code 17 PC allows judges and prosecutors to reduce a wobbler felony to a misdemeanor. A judge can decide at the preliminary hearing or sentencing, provided the defendant was sentenced to and completed felony probation after their petition to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor.

A judge is not required to follow how the prosecutor charges the offense. In other words, they can reduce a wobbler felony to a misdemeanor if the crime's mitigating circumstances favor being more lenient. Mitigating factors for a defendant include the following:

  • No prior criminal record;
  • A minimal and insignificant criminal history;
  • Passive participant in the crime;
  • Played a minor insignificant role in the crime;
  • Voluntarily acknowledged wrongdoing early;
  • Avoided harming people or property,
  • Paid victim restitution;
  • Satisfactory prior performance on probation or parole.

What Are the Advantages of Getting a Felony Sex Offense Reduced to a Misdemeanor?

While the best outcome with any criminal charge is either to be acquitted or to have the charge dismissed, the next best option is to reduce the charges.

Let's discuss several vital reasons why it's advantageous to have your attorney get a "wobbler" offense charged as a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

Advantages of Getting a Felony Sex Offense Reduced to a Misdemeanor
There are numerous advantages to getting a felony sex crime reduced to a misdemeanor.

Lesser Penalties 

Felony sex crimes carry heavy sentences, including longer prison terms and more significant fines. Conversely, misdemeanors typically involve shorter jail times (if any) and smaller fines.

Additionally, although probation may be granted instead of incarceration for many offenses, misdemeanors are more likely to result in probation than felonies.

Avoiding a Felony Record

A felony conviction can have long-lasting effects on your life beyond the immediate legal penalties. It can affect future employment opportunities, housing applications, and even certain civil rights like voting or owning a firearm. Reducing a charge to a misdemeanor can help avoid these lasting and disruptive consequences.

Possibility of Avoiding the Sex Offender Registry

In California, certain sex crimes include required registration as a sex offender—for at least ten years, sometimes 20 years, and sometimes for life.

While getting your charges reduced to a misdemeanor won't necessarily keep you off the sex offender registry, a misdemeanor conviction can remove your name if you qualify to receive a Certificate of Rehabilitation from the court. For felony convictions, that Certificate won't get your name off the sex offender registry.

Potential for Expungement

In California, many misdemeanor offenses are eligible for expungement after some time. This means that, after completing probation or serving a sentence, a person can petition the court to remove the conviction from their public record. This option is typically not available for felony convictions.

Avoid Professional Licensing Complications

Many professions require licensing or certification from state boards or agencies. These bodies often have the power to deny or revoke licenses based on felony convictions, which can impact careers in healthcare, law, education, and more.

While a misdemeanor conviction may still have some impact, it is less likely to result in such drastic professional consequences.

What Sex Offenses in California Are Considered "Wobbler" Offenses?

The list of "wobbler" sex crimes in California is pretty long and includes the following offenses:

You can contact us for a case review by phone or via the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, California.

Related Content:

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

We speak English, Russian, Armenian, and Spanish.

If you have one phone call from jail, call us! If you are facing criminal charges, DON'T talk to the police first. TALK TO US!

Anytime 24/7