Most cases of driving under the influence in California are prosecuted as misdemeanors. However, if you suffer your fourth or subsequent DUI within a ten-year period or injure another person as the result of driving under the influence, then the prosecutor has the discretion to charge the offense as either a misdemeanor or a felony. This is what California law defines as a wobbler.
California law defines a “wobbler” as an offense that prosecutors may elect to file as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on (1) the facts of the case, and (2) your criminal history. It would therefore seem that if, for example, you suffer your fourth DUI within a ten-year period, your DUI history would lead prosecutors to file the charge as a felony. However, that isn't always the case.
This is where having a skilled California DUI defense attorney becomes critical. This type of lawyer knows the most effective ways to convince prosecutors to reduce your penalty exposure by either filing your drunk driving charge as a misdemeanor or by reducing a charged felony DUI to a misdemeanor.
California prosecutors are endowed with a great deal of discretion when it comes to sentencing, as a great many criminal offenses are classified as wobblers. When you can persuade the prosecution that you are remorseful, that your criminal culpability should be reduced due to mitigating circumstances, or that your criminal history warrants more lenient treatment, it is likely that they will charge your wobbler offense as a misdemeanor. (Read our article, When a DUI becomes a federal case.)