The judge decides whether “wobbler” crimes will be sentenced as felonies or gross misdemeanors in Nevada.
A defense attorney’s initial goal in a felony case is to get the charge dismissed. But if the D.A. refuses to cooperate, then the next best scenario is to get the felony reduced to a misdemeanor.
Having a misdemeanor conviction is much preferable to having a felony. Potential employers don’t look down on it as much. Misdemeanors don’t divest defendants of their civil rights. And misdemeanors may be sealed from their criminal records far sooner than felonies.
This article explains how a skilled Las Vegas criminal defense attorney may get a felony reduced to a misdemeanor through a plea bargain or by withdrawing a plea. Keep reading to learn more.
What’s the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor in Las Vegas, Nevada?
All crimes in Nevada are categorized as either:
a) A misdemeanor in Nevada,
b) A gross misdemeanor in Nevada, or
c) A felony in Nevada
Misdemeanors in Nevada
The least serious crime is a misdemeanor in Las Vegas. Examples of common misdemeanors include:
- The Las Vegas crime of shoplifting (if the merchandise is less than $1,200)
- The Las Vegas crime of trespass
- The Las Vegas crime of breaching the peace
- The Las Vegas crime of drunk driving (as long as it’s not the third DUI conviction within a seven-year time-span, or that no one got seriously hurt or killed)
- Violations of Las Vegas traffic law (traffic tickets)
The maximum jail sentence for a misdemeanor conviction is six months, and the maximum fine is $1,000. A Las Vegas court may impose either jail, fines, or both. In some cases, misdemeanor charges may be dismissed pursuant to a plea bargain.
Gross Misdemeanors in Nevada
A gross misdemeanor in Nevada is more serious than a straight misdemeanor but is not as serious as a felony. Examples of common gross misdemeanors include:
- The Las Vegas crime of indecent exposure in Nevada (if it’s the defendant’s first offense)
- The Las Vegas crime of stalking (if it’s the defendant’s second or subsequent offense)
- The Las Vegas crime of open or gross lewdness (if it’s the defendant’s first offense)
- The Las Vegas crime of false imprisonment (as long as the defendant wasn’t a prisoner, didn’t use a deadly weapon, or acted to avoid arrest)
- The Las Vegas crime of marijuana possession of one oz. or less (if it’s the defendant’s third offense)
The maximum prison sentence for a gross misdemeanor conviction is 1 year, and the maximum fine is $2,000. A Las Vegas judge can order the defendant either to go to jail, to pay fines, or to do both. Depending on the case defendants may do probation in lieu of incarceration.
Felonies in Nevada
A felony in Nevada is the gravest type of crime. Felonies, in turn, are divided into the following five subcategories (ranging from most serious to least serious):
- Category A felonies in Las Vegas, such as the Nevada crime of murder or Nevada crime of sexual assault
- Category B felonies in Las Vegas, such as the Nevada crime of voluntary manslaughter or Nevada crime of robbery
- Category C felonies in Las Vegas, such as the Nevada crime of violating an extended restraining order or Nevada crime of receiving stolen property (if the value is at least $5,000 but less than $25,000)
- Category D felonies in Las Vegas, such as the Nevada crime of unpaid casino markers or Nevada crime of forgery
- Category E felonies in Las Vegas, such as the Nevada crime of possessing drug paraphernalia or Nevada crime of gang recruitment (if the defendant is an adult)
The punishment depends on the class of felony. Obviously category A felonies in Las Vegas carry the harshest punishments, including life in Nevada State prison or even the death penalty in Nevada. Meanwhile, category E felonies in Las Vegas usually guarantee just probation with no prison.
Note that there are some crimes called “wobblers” which can be either felonies or gross misdemeanors. In these cases, the judge has the discretion to decide which one to convict the defendant of. Examples of wobblers in Nevada include:
- Attempts to commit the Las Vegas crime of burglary
- Attempts to commit the Las Vegas crime of assault with a deadly weapon
- Attempts to commit some Las Vegas crimes of fraud
Can a person who’s arrested for a felony then get the charge reduced to a misdemeanor?
If a defendant is charged with a felony, his/her lawyer’s first line of attack is to attempt to get the charge dismissed outright. But if prosecutors insist on pressing charges, then the defense attorney would try to negotiate a plea bargain whereby the felony gets reduced to a gross misdemeanor or a misdemeanor.
Whenever a defendant pleads to a wobbler, which can be a felony or a gross misdemeanor, the judge has the final say over which conviction to impose. In making this decision the judge considers several factors:
- the facts of the case
- the nature of the offense
- the defendant’s personal history
- the defendant’s criminal history
Remember that defendants never have to accept a plea bargain. Anyone charged with a felony is entitled to a jury trial in Nevada, where the D.A. has the burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Can a person who pleads to a felony get the conviction reduced to a misdemeanor at a later time?
Yes, but only if the terms of the original plea bargain specifically call for the felony to be reduced to a misdemeanor (or gross misdemeanor) upon successful completion of the sentence. Otherwise, unlike the California system, there’s no procedural rule in Nevada that allows a judge to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor later on.
Note that a person who pleads to a felony may file a motion with the court after he/she has been convicted to withdraw the plea. But courts rarely grant this motion unless it would be “manifest injustice” to sustain the conviction. (NRS 176.165)
What’s the purpose of trying to get a felony reduced to a misdemeanor?
Being a convicted felon in Nevada brings several disadvantages. Among them are:
- Prospective employers may disqualify job applicants who have felonies on their background check.
- Various state licensing boards may deny certification to people who’ve been convicted of felonies.
- Convicted felons may not possess, own or use firearms.
- Convicted felons may not serve on juries.
- Having a felony count as a strike on Nevada’s equivalent of the Three Strikes Law.
- Felonies can’t be sealed from the defendant’s criminal record for at least two-to-ten years after the case is closed. There are some felonies such as Nevada sexual offenses that can never be sealed. And sealing a felony record does not automatically restore the defendant’s right to bear arms.
So having a felony reduced to a misdemeanor would avoid all of these problems. Furthermore, most misdemeanors may be sealed from a criminal record only one or two years after the case has closed, and the waiting time for gross misdemeanors is usually two years. Read more about sealing criminal records in Nevada.
For information about California law, go to our informational webpage on California Penal Code 17(b) PC | Reducing felony convictions to misdemeanors.