Unlike other states, one term you will likely hear in the context of California criminal law is the term, “wobbler” or that you were charged with a, “wobbler offense.”
While other states do have “wobblers,” California law is known for them; in fact, there are over 100 “wobbler” offenses documented in the California penal code, including some related to DUI.
What are these “wobbler DUIs,” what do you need to know about them, and how can your attorney address them in a way to help you obtain the most positive possible outcome?
A wobbler is simply a crime that can be prosecuted either as a misdemeanor or a felony. The decision to pursue one or the other is usually left to the prosecuting attorney who considers the circumstances surrounding the case to decide which is the more appropriate charge—or which he or she believes carries the best likelihood of a conviction.
Aggravating or Mitigating Factors
While the prosecutor or charging District Attorney typically decides whether to pursue a wobbler as a felony or misdemeanor, it’s not necessarily a random decision. The California District Attorneys Association has developed a set of Uniform Crime Charging Standards that most prosecutors consult when deciding how to move forward with charging a criminal case.
Some of the factors considered include:
- The seriousness of the underlying crime itself—is it crime of violence? Is it a SEX Crime?
- Extenuating/aggravating circumstances (for example, if someone was hurt or killed during the commission of the crime, if a weapon or gun was used in the commission of the offense;
- Whether the defendant cooperated and overall behavior and whether there is a history of FTA’s;
- Whether the defendant has a criminal history and/or likelihood of repeat offenses;
- The strength of the prosecution’s case (i.e., the likelihood of conviction)
What Types of Crimes Can Be Wobblers?
Many types of offenses can be prosecuted either as misdemeanors or felonies under California law. Some of the more common examples include:
- Child endangerment
- Sexual battery
- Vehicular manslaughter
- Assault with a deadly weapon
- Making criminal threats
- Statutory rape
Most DUI charges in California are misdemeanors by definition, but in certain circumstances a DUI may also be classified as a wobbler, giving the prosecutor the option to pursue your case as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
Fourth Offense DUI
If you have three prior DUI convictions and are charged with a fourth DUI within a 10-year window, the fourth DUI charge qualifies as a wobbler, as do any subsequent charges. The District Attorney won’t automatically charge you with a felony, but he or she might do so if he considers you a potential habitual traffic offender and or a threat to public safety.
DUI Causing Injury
If someone is injured because you were determined to have driven while under the influence, you may be charged with DUI causing injury, which is a wobbler offense. The prosecuting attorney generally looks at the circumstances of the case before deciding to pursue this type of DUI charge as a felony. The prosecutor will consider the severity of the injuries, your speed, your conduct while driving, and the level of alcohol or DRUGS in your system.
Please keep in mind that if you are convicted of a DUI in the State of California you will be required to sign the WATSON ADVISEMENT as part of your PLEA agreement. This advisement warns you and acknowledges from you that you will be responsible for MURDER if you are again caught driving with any measurable amount of alcohol or intoxicating substance in your body while driving which results in the death of another!
Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
If you are involved in a DUI-related accident causing the death of another person, you may be charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. While this is technically a wobbler offense, most charges of this nature are pursued as felonies unless the judge or prosecutor can be convinced to reduce it to a misdemeanor. GOOD Lawyering is what is needed in cases like this!
One other DUI-related charge worth mentioning: In the case of someone’s death, if the prosecutor believes you exercised “gross negligence” in that you had full knowledge that your actions were putting others at risk, the prosecutor may upgrade the charge from vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, which is always a felony.
The Implications of a Felony DUI
When a DUI is pursued as a felony charge, the stakes are much higher for YOU and your life can become even more complicated. If you are convicted of a felony DUI, you may expect the following:
- More jail time. A DUI felony conviction typically earns you a minimum of 16 months in state prison, up to 2-3 years. If someone was injured or killed, you could be facing up to 16 years or even more.
- Longer license suspension/revocation. Convicted DUI felons generally lose their driver’s license for 4-5 years.
- Permanent police record and required disclosure. You must disclose your felony conviction anytime you apply for a job—and it will disqualify you from working in many jobs and even some professions.
- Lose your right to vote. Convicted felons can’t vote while in prison or during the time of their parole.
- Loss of professional license. Many professional licensing boards may revoke your license if you are convicted of a felony.
- Restricted travel. You’ll need permission from your parole officer to travel more than 50 miles from home, and you’ll need a travel pass to leave the state, according to the California Conditions of Parole.
- Lose your right to bear arms. Under California law, you can’t own a gun for the rest of your life once convicted of a felony.
Defending Against Wobbler DUIs
The good news about wobbler DUIs (if there is any “good news” here) is that they give your defense attorney some latitude for negotiation. We may be able to present evidence before the prosecutor and judge as to why your DUI should be prosecuted as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. We will also negotiate with the prosecutor or appeal to the judge to have a felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor—for example, as part of a plea agreement.
The presiding judge may also exercise the option to reduce a wobbler DUI from a felony to a misdemeanor at the preliminary hearing or at certain stages of the trial is the case goes forward. Also in certain instances, even after conviction, your attorney may be able to appeal your case to have your felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor or even over-turned at the appellate level.
If you are charged with a DUI offense in California—especially one that is categorized as a wobbler—hiring an EXPERIENCED and SKILLED attorney is an essential ingredient in obtaining the best possible outcome and hopefully avoiding a felony conviction—which has severe and lasting consequences.
If you need effective and strong legal representation for a DUI charge in Sonoma or Marin County, call our offices today at 707-571-8600 or 415-492-4507 for a FREE case evaluation.
For more info on DUI Defense, CLICK HERE.