How Serious is a 3rd Degree Felony in California?

Todd Bennett

In the state of California, criminal offenses are classified into three main categories: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Felonies are the most serious type of crime, and they are further divided into different degrees or classes based on the severity of the offense.

A 3rd degree felony, also known as a “wobbler,” is considered a mid-level felony offense in California’s criminal justice system. While not as severe as first or second-degree felonies, a 3rd degree felony conviction can still carry significant penalties and long-lasting consequences. [Source]

Understanding the Classification of Felonies in California

In California, felonies are divided into four main categories:

  1. Violent Felonies: These are the most serious types of felonies, involving the use of force or violence against another person. Examples include murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. [Source]
  2. Serious Felonies: Also known as “strikes” under California’s Three Strikes Law, these felonies are considered severe but not as serious as violent felonies. Examples include certain types of burglary, arson, and drug trafficking offenses. [Source]
  3. Third-Degree Felonies (Wobbler Offenses): These are mid-level felonies that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the specific circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. [Source]
  4. Misdemeanors: These are less serious offenses than felonies, typically punishable by a maximum of one year in county jail and/or a fine. [Source]

What Constitutes a Third-Degree Felony in California?

Third-degree felonies, also known as “wobbler offenses,” are crimes that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the specific circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. Some examples of third-degree felonies in California include:

  • Certain types of theft, such as grand theft (stealing property worth more than $950) or petty theft with prior convictions.
  • Possession of certain controlled substances for personal use, such as methamphetamine or cocaine.
  • Certain types of assault and battery, such as domestic violence or assault with a deadly weapon.
  • Driving under the influence (DUI) with aggravating factors, such as causing injury or having prior DUI convictions.
  • Certain types of fraud, such as insurance fraud or real estate fraud.
  • Certain types of possession of weapons, such as possession of a concealed firearm or possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

The decision to charge a wobbler offense as a felony or a misdemeanor is typically made by the prosecuting attorney, taking into account factors such as the defendant’s criminal history, the severity of the offense, and the potential impact on the victim or community.

Penalties for a 3rd Degree Felony in California

If a wobbler offense is charged as a felony, the potential penalties can be significant. The specific penalties will depend on the nature of the offense and any aggravating or mitigating factors, but in general, a third-degree felony conviction in California can result in:

  1. Imprisonment: A 3rd degree felony in California can result in a sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison, depending on the specific offense and the defendant’s criminal history.
  2. Fines: In addition to potential imprisonment, a third-degree felony conviction may also carry hefty fines, often ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
  3. Probation: In some cases, a judge may grant probation instead of a prison sentence, typically with strict conditions and supervision requirements.
  4. Collateral Consequences: Beyond the direct penalties, a felony conviction can also have long-lasting collateral consequences, such as difficulty finding employment, loss of certain civil rights (e.g., the right to vote or possess firearms), and potential barriers to housing, education, and professional licensing.

It’s important to note that if a wobbler offense is charged as a misdemeanor, the potential penalties are generally less severe, typically involving a maximum of one year in county jail, probation, and/or fines.

Factors Influencing the Severity of a Third-Degree Felony

While 3rd degree felonies are generally considered mid-level offenses in California, the severity of the consequences can vary depending on several factors, including:

  1. Prior Criminal History: A defendant’s prior criminal record can significantly impact the severity of the punishment for a third-degree felony conviction. If the defendant has previous felony convictions, particularly for similar offenses, the penalties may be enhanced.
  2. Aggravating Circumstances: Certain aggravating factors, such as the use of a weapon, inflicting significant harm or injury, or the involvement of vulnerable victims (e.g., children or the elderly), can increase the severity of the sentence.
  3. Mitigating Circumstances: On the other hand, mitigating factors, such as a lack of criminal history, acceptance of responsibility, or cooperation with authorities, may result in reduced penalties.
  4. Sentencing Enhancements: California has various sentencing enhancements that can increase the potential penalties for certain felonies, such as the Three Strikes Law, which imposes harsher sentences for defendants with multiple serious or violent felony convictions.
  5. Alternative Sentencing Options: In some cases, defendants may be eligible for alternative sentencing options, such as drug treatment programs, community service, or restorative justice programs, which can potentially reduce the severity of the consequences.

Given the potential severity of the penalties and long-lasting consequences associated with a 3rd degree felony conviction in California, it is important for people who charged with such offenses to seek experienced legal representation.

A skilled criminal defense attorney can assess the specific circumstances of the case, identify potential defenses or mitigating factors, and work to achieve the best possible outcome, whether through negotiation, trial, or alternative sentencing options.

In conclusion, while third-degree felonies or wobbler offenses are considered mid-level felonies in California, they can still carry significant penalties and long-lasting consequences.

The severity of the punishment depends on various factors, including the specific offense, the defendant’s criminal history, aggravating or mitigating circumstances, and potential sentencing enhancements.

Seeking legal representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney is essential to navigate the complexities of the legal system and protect one’s rights and interests.

Share This Article
Todd Bennett is a five-year criminal defense attorney. He is dedicated to defending the accused and has won several criminal cases. Todd Bennett uses his significant criminal justice experience to create customized defense tactics for each client. Todd Bennett frequently speaks at legal gatherings, offering his criminal defense expertise and staying abreast of industry advancements. Criminal defendants trust Todd Bennett's vigorous advocacy and commitment to client success.