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Felony to Misdemeanor: Potential Paths for Charge Reduction

Reducing a felony charge to a misdemeanor can be a complex process that typically requires legal expertise. In most cases, a felony can be reduced to a misdemeanor in 4 ways: Through a plea bargain, a diversion program, completion of probation, or by showing that the felony elements of the crime are missing.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

Reducing Felonies to Misdemeanors

Defendants convicted of felony offenses can face numerous unforeseen consequences. These can include challenges in securing employment and suitable housing, ineligibility for certain state professional licenses, loss of the right to own or possess firearms, and the loss of voting rights.

However, individuals convicted of certain felonies may have the opportunity to petition the court to reduce their conviction to a misdemeanor and subsequently expunge it. This process can be crucial for those seeking to rebuild their lives post-conviction.

Under California Penal Code Section 17(b) PC, a person who has been convicted of a felony can have the charge reduced to a misdemeanor when the underlying offense is what is considered a “wobbler” crime that could have been charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Additionally, the defendant must have been granted probation.

Examples of “wobbler” offenses include burglary under California Penal Code Section 459 PC, grand theft under California Penal Code Section 487 PC, criminal threats under California Penal Code Section 422 PC, and spousal battery under California Penal Code Section 273.5 PC. However, “straight felonies,” which can only be prosecuted as felonies, are not eligible for reduction.

A judge can reduce a felony to a misdemeanor under California Penal Code Section 17(b) PC after the defendant’s preliminary hearing. The defendant can also request a reduction at sentencing following a guilty verdict or plea.

If currently on probation for a “wobbler” felony, the defendant can petition for early termination of probation and request a reduction to a misdemeanor. To succeed, the defendant should have fulfilled all probation terms, including paying fines and restitution, and should not have committed any new offenses.

By reducing a felony to a misdemeanor, individuals can mitigate the long-term impacts of a felony conviction, making it easier to find employment, secure housing, and restore certain rights.

Which Felonies Can Be Reduced to Misdemeanors?

There is an extensive list of criminal offenses that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, including various commercial and corporate crimes.

Here are some common penal code offenses that, if initially charged as a felony, might be eligible for reduction to a misdemeanor:

In some jurisdictions, offenses are categorized by classifications to determine eligibility for reduction.

What are the Benefits of Getting a Reduction?

According to SCLG, there are several key benefits to reducing a felony conviction to a misdemeanor [1]:

  • Improved Job Prospects: You won’t have to disclose a felony conviction on housing, loan, or job applications.
  • Professional Licenses: Retain eligibility for certain professional licenses that require a clean record.
  • Expungement: Increase the likelihood of having the offense expunged from your record.
  • Restored Gun Rights: Regain the right to own and possess firearms.

Not having a felony on your criminal record is extremely important. Felonies are serious offenses. Potential employers will often refuse to hire you if a background check reveals that you are a convicted felon. Misdemeanors are far more likely to be overlooked or disregarded. The effect that this can have on your professional success, post-conviction, is significant.

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