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Last Updated on: 29th September 2023, 09:57 am
Reducing Felonies to Misdemeanors
Getting charged with a felony can be scary. Felonies are serious crimes that can lead to long prison sentences, big fines, and a criminal record that follows you for life. But in some cases, it may be possible to get a felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor. This can help reduce the penalties you face and limit the long-term impact on your life.
There are a few different ways felony charges can potentially be reduced. The best option depends on the specifics of your case. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can look at the details and help advise you on the best approach. Here are some of the main ways felonies can potentially be reduced to misdemeanors:
One of the most common ways felonies get reduced is through plea bargaining. This is when the prosecution and defense negotiate a deal to resolve the case. As part of a plea bargain, the prosecutor may agree to reduce the charges to a misdemeanor in exchange for a guilty plea.
There are a few reasons why prosecutors may agree to reduce charges through plea bargaining:
- It saves time and resources by avoiding a lengthy trial.
- It ensures a conviction rather than risking an acquittal at trial.
- The defendant may agree to cooperate in other cases.
- There are weaknesses in the evidence that reduce the chances of conviction.
Defense attorneys will argue for a plea bargain by identifying weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case, or by showing why a felony conviction would be unduly harsh given the defendant’s background. If a deal can be reached, both sides avoid the uncertainty of a trial.
Some jurisdictions offer pretrial diversion programs that can lead to charges being reduced. These programs are intended for first-time offenders charged with nonviolent felonies. The defendant agrees to complete a rehabilitation or treatment program, along with meeting other conditions like community service, paying restitution, or staying out of trouble.
If the program is successfully completed within a set time period (often 6-24 months), the felony charges are dismissed or reduced to a misdemeanor. Diversion programs are a way to encourage rehabilitation and limit the long-term effects of a felony conviction for those deemed low-risk offenders.
In some states, a felony can potentially be reduced to a misdemeanor after completing probation. This may apply when a defendant is convicted of a felony offense but sentenced to probation rather than prison time. The judge suspends the imposition of a full felony sentence pending successful completion of probation.
If all conditions of probation are met, the defendant can then petition the court to reduce the original felony conviction to a misdemeanor. This gives an incentive to comply with probation and show rehabilitation. Factors the judge will consider include:
- Severity of the original offense
- Criminal history
- Compliance with probation terms
- Progress made during probation
Meeting the highest standards of probation gives the best chance at reduction. But it’s not guaranteed – the judge will decide based on the factors above.
Penal Code 17(b)
Some states like California have laws that specifically allow certain felony convictions to be reduced to misdemeanors after serving a sentence. California Penal Code Section 17(b) allows this for crimes known as “wobblers.”
Wobbler offenses can be punished as either felonies or misdemeanors. After completing a felony sentence for a wobbler, the defendant can petition the court to reduce it to a misdemeanor. If approved, the offense is treated as a misdemeanor for most purposes. This can help restore certain rights and reduce barriers to employment.
Showing Initial Charges Were Improper
There may be cases where a felony charge was improper from the outset based on the facts. For example, if the dollar amount in a theft charge was inflated without evidence, it could improperly make a misdemeanor theft into a felony.
An attorney can challenge the basis for a felony charge at a preliminary hearing or through a writ of habeas corpus. If it’s shown the facts don’t support the original felony charges, the court may reduce them to misdemeanors that fit the conduct.
Benefits of Reduction
Getting a felony reduced to a misdemeanor can provide several important benefits:
- Less jail/prison time
- Lower fines and fees
- Avoid a felony record and stigma
- Increased job opportunities
- Easier access to housing
- Ability to own a firearm (in some states)
- Restoration of voting rights
While a misdemeanor is still a criminal conviction, the effects are less severe than a felony. The reduction can help remove barriers to reintegrating into society after serving a sentence.
There are some important limitations on reducing felony charges:
- Violent, serious felonies are less likely to be reduced.
- Reductions may only be allowed for certain offenses.
- A prior felony record makes reductions more difficult.
- Prosecutors must agree to a plea bargain reduction.
- Judges have discretion to approve or deny reductions.
- States vary in which options are allowed by law.
While reductions are possible in many cases, there is no guarantee. An experienced attorney is essential to negotiate the best resolution based on the specifics of each case.
Consult an Attorney
If you or a loved one is facing felony charges, consult with a criminal defense attorney right away. An attorney can advise if options exist for a reduction to a misdemeanor based on the charges and your background. This can help limit the long-term consequences and get your life back on track.