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What are Wobbler DUIs in California?

A prison hallway. Prison cells with bars lining each side.In law, most things are defined by precedents or specific regulations that either prohibit or allow certain behavior. Of course, there are outliers. California, for example, is known for its “wobbler laws”, which can easily turn black-and-white issues into areas where there’s plenty of gray involved. In fact, the state has over 100 “wobbler” laws on its penal codes, some of which relate to DUIs.

So, what are California “wobbler laws” and how can you make sure you don’t get caught in their crossfires? Let’s take a look.

Wobbler Laws 101: What Are They?

Wobbler laws are crimes that can be prosecuted as either misdemeanors or felonies. While most states have at least a handful of wobbler laws, California is particularly known for its assortment of crimes that could go one way or the other. There’s a big difference between misdemeanors and felonies in the eyes of the court, yet many of California’s laws don’t define which side of the law defendants reside on specifically. In many cases, it’s left to the opinion of the prosecuting attorney to determine whether the circumstances surrounding cases necessitate felony trials, or if the defendants will be properly punished by the court under misdemeanor offenses.

Often times, the decision to charge the full weight of a felony lies in the prosecutor’s opinion as to whether he or she believes the charge can carry over into a conviction. If not, the prosecutor may opt for a misdemeanor charge.

What Kind of Wobbler Laws Affect DUIs in California?

Generally speaking, the majority of DUIs in California are misdemeanor offenses, meaning you’ll likely receive monetary penalties, be required to attend classes, and possibly have to serve minimal jail sentences when you have prior DUIs. There are times, however, when a DUI finds itself on the lines of being a wobbler law. Typically, a prosecutor will consider filing a felony charge if:

  • This is your fourth DUI offense. If you’ve already received three DUIs in a ten-year period and are arrested for a fourth within that decade timeframe, the fourth constitutes a wobbler. The district attorney will charge you with a felony because you are a danger to public safety.
  • You caused someone else harm while driving drunk. DUI-related crashes that cause harm or death to someone else—even if it’s your first DUI—can elevate the charges from misdemeanor to felony. The prosecuting attorney will likely look at the big picture of the incident, including your behavior, past record, and the seriousness of the injuries when deciding whether to charge you with a misdemeanor or felony.
  • You killed someone while driving intoxicated. This constitutes vehicular manslaughter in the state of California and will generally be charged as a felony, unless the prosecutor or judge can be convinced to reduce the charges to a misdemeanor. As a note, your charge may also be increased to gross vehicular manslaughter if the prosecutor believes you knew your actions were putting others in danger; this charge is not able to be reduced to a lesser impact.

Wobbler DUIs in California: The difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony

There’s a big difference between misdemeanor and felony DUIs in California, but, unless you have the power of an experienced DUI attorney by your side, you may not be able to get the charges reduced.

The same situation—depending on the ultimate charges and convictions—can result in very different situations. If you’re convicted of a felony DUI in California, you’ll likely face:

  • A longer jail sentence
  • Four to five years without a driver’s license
  • A permanent police record, which specifies that you’re a felon
  • Trouble obtaining housing and employment because of your felony conviction
  • The loss of your Second Amendment right to bear arms
  • Restricted travel abilities

While misdemeanors are serious, they do not have the repercussions of felony convictions. It’s in your best interest to try to reduce your charges to avoid life-long implications that could alter the way you’re used to living your life. Only an experienced California DUI attorney can help with these matters.

How Defense Attorneys Defend Against Wobblers in California

Although the uncertainty of wobbler laws is disconcerting for many citizens in California, there is good news. The fact that these situations are inherently characterized by a gray line that could go either way means great DUI defense attorneys understand how to look at the situations from all angles, offering the court and prosecuting attorney evidence that could translate into reduced charges. Wobblers offer greater flexibility for plea deals, sentencing negotiations, and overall better outcomes.

Jon Artz is a Los Angeles DUI attorney who’s seen plenty of changes in the laws over his many years defending his clients. He understands “wobbler laws” and knows how to go after loopholes the prosecution may not have even considered. If you’re facing a DUI – or if you’re involved with other California “wobbler laws”, reach out to Jon directly. You can fill out an online form, or simply phone him at (310) 820-1315.

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