Are Only Felony Wobblers Eligible to Be Reduced to Misdemeanors?

People v. Mauch
California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Division Three
June 3, 2008

Holding: Only offenses that can be classified as wobblers, which are offenses punishable by state prison or fine or imprisonment in county jail, are eligible to be reduced from a felony offense to a misdemeanor.

Why This Case is Important: Many felony offenses can be reduced to a misdemeanor. The felony offense must be classified by the State Legislature as an offense that is punishable by state prison, by a fine, or by imprisonment in county jail. These offenses are referred to as “wobblers.” The distinguishing factor of a wobbler is the alternate punishments authorized by the statute. An offense that is only punishable by state imprisonment does not qualify as a wobbler. As a result, offenses punishable solely by state prison cannot be reduced. Furthermore, a defendant who has served time in state prison for her conviction, or who has obtained a suspended prison sentence, will also be precluded from reducing her felony offense to a misdemeanor.

A wobbler may be reduced by the court pursuant to Penal Code section 17(b). Generally, a defendant petitioning to have her conviction dismissed pursuant to Penal Code section 1203.4 will also simultaneously petition for section 17(b) relief.

Facts of This Case: The defendant in this case was charged with one count of marijuana possession, a misdemeanor, and one count of marijuana cultivation, a felony. The trial court allowed the defendant to plead guilty, in which one of the terms of the plea was to reduce the felony charge to a misdemeanor.

The District Attorney objected to the reduction of the felony offense to a misdemeanor. The court of appeals agreed with the District Attorney.

The court of appeals noted that the power to define what a crime and punishment is lay with the state legislature. As a result, the court determined that only the state legislature could determine whether an offense was a felony or misdemeanor. The court of appeals held that the legislature had classified the cultivation of marijuana offense as a strict felony, providing only for punishment in state prison. Because there was no alternate punishment of a fine or county jail, the court concluded that the felony offense could not be reduced pursuant to section 17(b).

The court of appeals therefore reversed the judgment reducing the offense to a misdemeanor, and ordered the trial court to reinstate the felony marijuana cultivation charge.

Key Language: The trial court may not declare a crime to be a misdemeanor when the Legislature has not authorized misdemeanor punishment. Section 17, subdivision (b), recognizes as much when it authorizes a reduction of a felony to a misdemeanor only if the offense is punishable, in the discretion of the court, by imprisonment in the state prison, or by fine or imprisonment in the county jail.”

Expert Advise: “In California, many offenses can be reduced to a misdemeanor. These offenses are often known as wobblers. Reducing your offense offers many benefits, including the restoration of a defendant’s firearm rights. To take advantage of these benefits, it is important to understand whether your offense is eligible to be reduced, and this case clearly establishes what those requirements are.” Attorney Mathew Higbee

To read about more cases that help to define record clearing relief laws click here.

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