Every crime in California is defined by a specific code section. Our attorneys explain the law, penalties and best defense strategies for every major crime in California.
In California, defendants can bring a 17(b) motion to ask the court to get a felony dropped to a misdemeanor after completing felony probation. This only works for wobblers, however. The benefits of reducing a felony offense to a misdemeanor are significant. The collateral consequences of a felony conviction are much more severe than for a misdemeanor.
A 17(b) motion is a court petition. It asks the judge to reduce an eligible felony conviction to a misdemeanor. If approved, the defendant’s criminal background will show a prior misdemeanor offense. It will no longer list the prior offense as a felony.
17(b) motions can be heard at any of the following stages in the criminal trial process:
To expedite the process, the 17(b) motion can be filed during felony probation. This can lead to an earlier hearing for the motion. This means it can be resolved earlier. The motion can also be coupled with a request to terminate probation early. This can speed up the probation process even more.
Once filed, the judge will weigh several factors in deciding whether to grant the motion. They can include:
The prosecutor may or may not argue against reducing the felony conviction to a misdemeanor.
Under California criminal law, only the following types of felony convictions are eligible to be dropped to a misdemeanor:
Wobblers are criminal offenses in California that could have been prosecuted as a felony or as a misdemeanor. District attorneys have the discretion to choose how to pursue the charge. They often decide based on the facts of the case. Some common criminal offenses that are wobblers include:
These offenses are eligible for a 17(b) motion to reduce the felony conviction to a misdemeanor. Straight felonies – those that cannot be prosecuted as a misdemeanor – are not eligible for a reduction.3
If the charge was a wobbler, the sentencing judge must have imposed a term of probation. He or she cannot have sentenced the defendant to a term in county jail or state prison. If the judge denied probation and imposed a term in confinement, the offense cannot be dropped to a misdemeanor. The same is true if the judge sentenced the defendant to probation, but then the defendant violated probation and was sent to jail. In either of these cases, the felony conviction is not eligible for reduction to a misdemeanor.
Felony probation is a term of community supervision. To complete it, probationers have to follow its rules and complete its requirements for the term of probation.
The terms of probation vary. Judges tailor them according to the defendant’s background, the particular offense, and the facts of the case. Some common terms of felony probation include:
The length of felony probation is generally up to:
The term of probation for violent felonies can be longer. Some criminal statutes specifically state how long probation will last.4
Probationers who abide by the rules of their probation for the full term will complete it. They may even petition the court to terminate probation early.
Felony convictions are more serious than misdemeanors. A criminal record with a felony on it will trigger more collateral consequences. These collateral consequences are penalties and obstacles that come from outside the criminal justice system.
Some common collateral consequences that come with a felony conviction, but not with a misdemeanor conviction, include:
These collateral consequences of a conviction can make life difficult. They can last for years after the sentence has been served. Getting an eligible felony dropped to a misdemeanor after serving probation can avoid these difficulties. A skilled criminal defense attorney can file a 17(b) motion and begin the process.
However, there are some collateral repercussions of a felony conviction that will remain. These include:
To overcome these obstacles, it can be necessary to expunge the criminal conviction, entirely.
Expungement is the process of sealing a criminal record from the public view. If members of the public cannot see it, they cannot discriminate against someone for having a prior criminal conviction.
Expunging a misdemeanor, though, has more benefits than expunging a felony. An expunged misdemeanor preserves and restores some rights that are lost when the record being sealed was a felony. One of these is the defendant’s gun rights.
A criminal defense lawyer from a local law firm can help convicted felons drop a felony conviction to a misdemeanor. A lawyer can then provide the legal advice needed to expunge the criminal charge from their record.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.