What is a Wobbler?

David Lindsey, Attorney at Law

A “wobbler” might sound like a name for an unsteady toddler or over-intoxicated adult, but it’s actually a term used in the legal industry to describe certain types of crimes. When a crime could be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the specific circumstances surrounding the crime in question, it’s known as a wobbler.

To understand what a wobbler is, let’s first look at the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor.

Felonies are more serious than misdemeanors and result in stricter penalties. A person convicted of a felony is going to serve a longer sentence than one convicted of a misdemeanor, who at most will serve just a year in jail. In many instances, a person convicted of a misdemeanor will serve no jail time at all and the only penalty will be a fine.

Felonies include crimes such as murder and grand theft, whereas misdemeanors are things like shoplifting or disturbing the peace. Felonies also have long-term consequences, such as losing your second amendment rights, as well as your right to vote or serve on a jury.

To learn more about the long-term consequences of a felony conviction check out this article from Avvo.com.

What Happens When a Crime is a Misdemeanor and a Felony?

There are some circumstances in which a crime doesn’t fall into either category, or it falls into both.

Essentially, it “wobbles” between felony and misdemeanor, and a judge can apply either a felony or misdemeanor punishment. Sometimes it’s the judge’s ruling regarding punishment that determines the categorization of the crime.

Prosecutors have the option of charging a crime that is a wobbler one way or the other, but it’s ultimately up to the judge how the crime is ultimately categorized. This means that even if a wobbler is charged as a felony, the judge has the option of applying a punishment that would reduce the crime to a misdemeanor.

One of the most common reasons a crime that would normally be a misdemeanor ends up being charged as a felony has to do with prior behavior. Let’s say you are involved in a fistfight in a bar, and both you and the other person escape relatively unharmed. Under most circumstances, this would result in misdemeanor assault charges.

However, if you’re a repeat offender and you’ve been convicted of assault a couple of times in the past, and you happened to grab a beer bottle to swing in defense during the fight, you could be looking at felony charges.

Colorado Wobbler Drug Crimes

In Colorado, wobbler laws often apply to drug crimes. The wobbler law was actually added to the books in 2013 to allow some people convicted of drug felonies the opportunity to have the conviction reduced to a misdemeanor following the probationary sentence. The law can be beneficial to someone convicted of certain marijuana offenses, depending on the amount of drug in his or her possession.

To be eligible for application of the wobbler law, a defendant must:

  • Be eligible for probation
  • Have no prior deferred judgment or diversion for a felony drug charge
  • Not have already taken advantage of a prior wobbler
  • Have no prior misdemeanor drug convictions reduced from felony charges

The addition of wobbler laws also include new designations related to drug crimes. Individuals in Colorado can now face charges of “drug felonies,” “drug misdemeanors,” and “drug petty offenses,” which means the punishments are typically less severe than they are with other non-drug felonies, misdemeanors, and petty offenses.

If you have questions about how a wobbler works or you’ve been charged with a drug offense and aren’t sure what to do next, we can help. Contact Denver Criminal Defense Lawyer David Lindsey to schedule a free consultation.

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