In a criminal case, there are only three categories: an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony. An infraction carries the least serious penalties, where the defendant is only asked to pay fines. In a misdemeanor case, the defendant may face either a prison sentence, a fine, or both. Finally, a felony case is the heaviest and most serious category of all three, which carries 1 year or up to a life prison sentence depending on the charge.
In California law, only serious crimes can be labeled as a felony offense. These felonious acts include but are not limited to:
- Assault with a deadly weapon;
- Sexual battery;
- Credit Card Fraud;
- Animal cruelty;
- Hate crimes;
- Domestic violence;
- Driving under the influence (DUI)
- Perjury; and
- Terrorist acts.
Some of these crimes are considered “wobbler” offenses, which can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. In this case, California Penal Code PC 17b makes it possible for convicted felons to request the court to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor. While this may seem like a quick and easy solution for criminals who do not want to suffer severe penalties, the process of granting this request is not as easy as you might think. There are conditions that the defendant and the court must look into, and only if these conditions are present in the case will the court consider the motion to reduce the charge into a misdemeanor. Specifically, there are two requirements for this:
- The underlying offense must be a wobbler, and
- The defendant must have been granted probation.
What these conditions practically mean is that the defendant must not have served time in a state prison (different from a county prison). This is because probations are given before the offender even serves a part of his sentence. For a more thorough explanation about probations, we have covered that topic just for you. Meanwhile, if neither of these conditions is observed in the case, then the defendant is not eligible for the privilege.
Benefits of Reducing Felony to Misdemeanor
There is a reason why PC 17b is often regarded as a privilege law to offenders because of the benefits it offers. In this section, we have listed a few advantages that you might be able to enjoy should the court grant your request:
- Recover your right to use and own firearm;
- You may answer “no” to a question asking whether you have been convicted of a felony or have a felony on your record;
- Obtain and apply for professional licenses; and
- Regain the right to serve on a jury.
How to File a Motion to Reduce Felony to a Misdemeanor
First of all, we encourage you to speak to your criminal defense attorney should you wish to proceed in this process. Still, for the general information of everyone concerned, we will take you through the steps and requirements needed to file a 17b motion.
The most important thing to take note of is that a request to reclassify felony to a misdemeanor can only be made at the following points:
- The conclusion of a preliminary hearing;
- During the sentencing; or
- After the completion of the defendant's felony probation.
It is therefore essential that you and your lawyer plan your approach as early as possible. Remember, once you serve a part of your sentence in the state prison, you can no longer qualify for the California Penal Code PC 17b.
After successfully filing the motion, the court will then assess the following factors which will influence the results of their decision-making:
- The facts of the case;
- The defendant's behavior in following the probationary conditions;
- The defendant's criminal history; and
- The defendant's personal history.
Take note that the prosecutor may decide to get themselves involved in the decision-making process of the court. Ultimately, the court holds the power as to whether or not they should grant the request.
Our Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help You
It is a universally accepted fact that defendants, regardless of the category of the underlying offense, are almost always best served by obtaining a criminal defense lawyer. This case is especially true considering that there are many complexities involved in filing a request to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor. Therefore, we invite you to contact our law firm as soon as possible to make sure that you are properly represented in court.
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