What’s A Wobbler? Understand More About Crimes That Can Be Charged Different Ways

Has your attorney referred to your situation as a "wobbler" case? Learn more about what that means and how it can affect your future.

A Crime That Can Be Charged Two Different Ways 

If you're charged with a "wobbler" crime, it means that the District Attorney could choose to prosecute you either for a misdemeanor or a felony. For example, in some areas, a simple DUI can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor if no one was injured as a result. Another example is an assault case where somebody started throwing drunken punches at somebody else, but no serious injuries or property damage occurred.

A Big Difference In Consequences

Misdemeanors are the less serious charges, and there are some major consequences to any felony conviction that you want to avoid, so it's always in your best interest to have the DA choose to press the lesser charge. While the exact punishments vary from state to state, misdemeanors generally result in jail time of up to a year in a county jail (if at all) and a fine. Felonies,on the other hand, can result in a sentence of more than a year in a state prison, heavier fines, and a loss of your civil liberties, including the right to bear arms, hold public office, vote, and serve on a jury. Misdemeanor convictions are usually overlooked by employers and potential landlords, because of their minor nature, while being branded a felon can haunt you for the rest of your life.

In addition, a felony conviction could set you on a dangerous path toward lifetime imprisonment, thanks to the habitual offender laws of some states, which are commonly called "three-strikes laws." In states with those provisions, having a felony conviction could eventually set you up for a much harsher prison sentence if you make any future mistakes, even years later.

A Practical Response From Your Defense

Ideally, the prosecution is supposed to look at "wobbler" cases and charge them according to the circumstances surrounding the event. For example, someone who had a couple of drinks with dinner and didn't realize that he or she was barely over the legal limit to drive really shouldn't be charged the way that someone who sat drinking in a bar for hours before getting behind the wheel. Both are guilty of DUIs, but the circumstances should encourage the DA to offer the first driver a misdemeanor charge and a lighter punishment.

In reality, the DA may try to use the "wobbler" status of your crime to force you into a plea bargain. Some prosecutors will routinely charge wobbler cases as felonies so that they can gain the upper hand while negotiating a plea bargain. 

You need a criminal attorney who is experienced in felony defense to handle your case. He or she can help you determine if the evidence against you is strong enough to even support a felony conviction. If a plea deal is the best path for you, your attorney can often negotiate a better deal by pointing out weaknesses in the prosecution's case should it go to trial.