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What Makes A Criminal Case A Wobbler?

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A criminal defense law attorney sometimes calls a case a "wobbler." There are three levels of criminal offenses: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. A wobbler is a case that could land on one side or the other of these boundaries, usually the divide between a felony and a misdemeanor. Defendants with potential wobblers should understand these four factors that make such cases challenging.


Foremost, the implications of a conviction tend to be more dramatic if a conviction lands on the high side of the wobble. Misdemeanors are charges where convictions carry one year or less of jail time. Felonies are charges where jail time exceeds one year, and penalties can go as high as life imprisonment or execution depending on the alleged offense and the state's laws.

Many felony convictions also carry post-prison felonies. You could lose the right to work in certain occupations, have to register as a sex offender, lose voting rights, no longer be able to fly on planes, or lose the right to own weapons. Also, many employers and landlords screen out people who have felony convictions. The lifetime damage of landing on the wrong side of the divide between a felony and a misdemeanor can be massive.

Offense Severity

Some charges are wobblers because of the severity of an offense. Consider a bloody street fight. The line between simple and aggravated assault can be surprisingly thin depending on the injured one person sustained. A criminal defense attorney will work hard to argue this kind of case down to a simple assault because it could save the defendant years of jail time.

Criminal History

The law frequently comes down harder on people with criminal histories, especially if the current charges are similar to previous convictions. Someone without a criminal history might be able to argue a public drunkenness charge down to disorderly conduct. Usually, the prosecutor and the judge want an agreement, such as the defendant completing drug and alcohol counseling in exchange for a suspended sentence.


Prosecutors sometimes overcharge cases. This means they come into court with more total charges and stronger allegations than necessary. In some cases, the goal is to ensure the state comes away with a win on at least a few. In other cases, it could be a strong-arm tactic to convince the criminal defense attorney to negotiate a plea deal. The case is a wobbler because the prosecution wants the criminal defense attorney to tell their client that the price of fighting could be more jail time.

To learn more, contact a criminal defense attorney in your area.