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  • Writer's pictureBlair Goss

Can a Felony Be Dismissed in California? | Goss Law [2023]

When it comes to California's legal landscape, questions about whether a court will grant dismissal to a felony or a misdemeanor conviction are not uncommon.

A felony is a serious offense, typically carrying more substantial penalties than misdemeanors. Such corrections include state prison sentences, whereas misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in county jail.

In some cases, there's room for a reduction from a felony conviction to a misdemeanor.

This reduction can happen through a process outlined in the California Penal Code: Section 17(b). To successfully reduce the conviction, the court must determine the offense and the person eligible in the first place.

What Is a Felony Conviction?

What Is a Felony Conviction?

Felonies typically involve severe crimes like murder, armed robbery, rape, drug trafficking, etc. These offenses are more significant than others because they often result in harm to others or pose a threat to society.

A felony criminal conviction can create obstacles to securing employment, housing, and other opportunities.

As mentioned above, the court can reduce some felonies. However, this legal process involves careful evaluation of the case's specifics. A qualified attorney can provide the best guidance tailored to the lawsuit. They can provide insight to questions like What is the lowest felony charge in California?

Can a Minor Be Convicted of a Felony?

In California, as in many other states, the legal system acknowledges that minors may commit serious offenses. As a result, the court provides a separate set of rules and procedures to address such cases.

Juvenile Delinquency

The law considers people under the age of 18 minors. When a person of this age range commits either a felony or a misdemeanor, the court refers to it as juvenile delinquency.

In this event, the system aims to rehabilitate rather than punish the young offender(s). Still, there are instances where a minor may still be subject to the adult criminal justice system.

Transfer Hearings

Some offenses can be severe enough to force the subject to a transfer hearing. In such cases, the court determines if the minor should be tried as an adult. These hearings consider factors such as the person's age, the crime's seriousness, and their criminal record.

Direct Filing

Crimes like murder, rape, or certain violent offenses may result in direct filing without a transfer hearing.

Such crimes threaten public safety. The justice system recognizes this, therefore aiming to protect society. Agreeing expungement to such offenses could potentially put the community at risk.

Also, violent crimes are some of the most serious offenses under California law. Punishments for such crimes hold criminals accountable for their actions. They serve as a deterrent to others who might consider committing similar acts of violence.

Criminals who aren't allowed felony dismissal may seek relief from their sentences through possible paroles, pardons, and appeals.

The Differences Between Wobbler and Straight Felony Convictions

These terms refer to two distinct categories of offenses. Each has its own set of consequences and potential outcomes.

Straight Felony

This is the more straightforward of the two types. Under this term, a conviction carries the total weight of a felony offense.

It includes the possibility of a state prison sentence, a permanent felony record, and other associated penalties. The consequences of a straight felony conviction are generally more severe and can have lasting implications on the person's life.

Additionally, some convictions may result in the loss of certain civil and gun rights, such as the right to possess firearms.

Wobbler Felony

On the other hand, this felony conviction has a unique characteristic. Under this term, the court can charge and sentence a crime as either felonies or misdemeanors.

The determination of whether the judge treats a wobbler offense as either of the options mentioned above depends on various factors.

This includes the nature of the crime and the defendant's criminal history. Also, the presence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances can influence the conviction.

Who Can See the Criminal Record?

Understanding who can access a criminal record is crucial for people with prior convictions.

Law enforcement agencies, such as police departments, are among the main entities that can wholly access a person's criminal record.

They use the statements for investigative purposes, background checks, and other activities. This allows them to assess the criminal history of people involved in legal matters.

On the other hand, courts and probation departments can also see a convicted person's criminal record. They may use the information to monitor the defendant.

One of the most common concerns for people with a criminal record is its impact on employment opportunities. Many employers, especially those in sensitive industries, may request and review an applicant's history during recruitment.

In California, employers are generally prohibited from considering certain types of felony convictions, such as:

  • Statements over seven years old.

  • Arrests that didn't lead to convictions.

  • Sealed or expunged records.

On the other hand, potential tenants may also face questions about their criminal records. Landlords and real estate agents usually seek information regarding an applicant's history during the screening process.

Which Felony Can Be Reduced to a Misdemeanor?

The possibility of reducing a felony to a misdemeanor in California hinges on several factors. This makes it essential to understand the specific criteria that determine eligibility.

Courts characterize wobbler offenses by their flexibility in sentencing. Such violations are less strict than other convictions. Common wobbler crimes include:

  • Burglary

  • Petty theft

  • Vehicle manslaughter

  • Drug-trafficking

  • Money laundering

The key distinction for wobbler offenses is that they allow the court to exercise discretion in choosing the appropriate classification.

In this event, for a felony conviction to be reduced to a misdemeanor, three factors play a role:

Nature of the Offense

The specific penal code section under which the judge charges a person with a felony plays a part. Some offenses are inherently eligible for a reduction, while others may not be.

Prior Convictions

A person's criminal history is a critical consideration. Generally, people with minor misdemeanors or no offenses are more likely to be eligible for a reduction.

Aggravating Circumstances

The court evaluates the case's circumstances. This includes evidence, rehabilitation, and how the person contributes to society.

On top of that, the judge must also assess whether reducing a felony conviction to a misdemeanor would negatively impact public safety.

What Is California's Three Strikes Law?

Introduced in the early 1990s, California's "Three Strikes" law deters repeat offenders and protects society from habitual criminals.

The essence of the rule lies in its punitive approach to punishing criminals with multiple felony convictions.

Under this law, anyone who has been convicted of two prior serious or violent felonies faces heightened penalties after the third felony conviction.

a. First strike: The standard sentence for the first time is serving 50% of prison time.

b. Second strike: The penalties double after the second violent offense. A county jail under California law will prohibit criminals from parole until they complete 80% of their sentence.

c. Third strike: This results in the most severe consequences. In such cases, the law mandates a minimum prison sentence of 25 years to a lifetime, with no possibility of parole until the sentence ends.

Many argue the ruling leads to long sentences for non-violent, minor offenses. As a result, in 2012, California voters passed "Proposition 36." This amends the Three Strikes law, imposing life sentences only when the third strike is a violent felony conviction.

Which Felonies Are Impossible to Expunge in California?

Expungement is a legal process that allows people with certain criminal convictions to clear their records. This provides them with a fresh start. However, not all felony convictions are eligible for expungement.

Sex Offender

One category of felonies that is impossible to delete includes sex offenses. Such crimes need the criminal to register as a sex offender.

The offenses include crimes of a sexual nature, such as rape, child molestation, and sexual assault.

Statutory Rape

On the other hand, statutory rape is another felony conviction ineligible for expungement. This involves sexual activity with minors below the consent age, even if they participated willingly.

The court excludes convictions for statutory rape from expungement and felony dismissal to protect minors.

Murder and Deadly Assault

A felony conviction such as murder and violent assault can result in the loss of human life or severe physical harm. The seriousness of such an offense makes it ineligible for expungement.


Acts of terrorism include harm to the public. This could be in the form of bombings or similar acts threatening national and public security.

The Limitations of Expungement Under California Law

It's important to note that expungement does not entirely erase or destroy a person's criminal record. Instead, it creates a different entry in the statement. This shows the court dismissed a felony conviction.

Certain prior conviction cases (sex offender, murder, etc.) are ineligible for expungement, as discussed previously. To have their record expunged, the criminal must successfully complete probation. Also, they need to resolve all pending charges.

On the other hand, people with driver's licenses suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will still be unable to drive on California roads.

The Many Benefits of Expungement

One of the primary benefits of expungement is access to workplaces. With a fresh background, people can legally answer "no" when employers ask about prior conviction cases during recruitment.

There are a few other benefits of expungement:

  • Housing Prospects

Anyone convicted of a felony or misdemeanor will have difficulty purchasing or renting a property in California. However, an expunged record provides a better chance of securing safe and stable housing.

  • Civil Rights

In some cases, expungement can restore various restricted civil rights. They may include the ability to vote, serve on a jury, or possess firearms.

  • Educational Opportunities

With a clean slate, ex-convicts may have more access to colleges and vocational training.

  • Reduced Risk of Deportation

A criminal record can pose a risk of deportation or citizenship denial for non-US citizens. Expungement can prevent this, allowing immigrants to maintain their legal status or pursue naturalization.

  • Social Benefits

On the other hand, reducing felony convictions to misdemeanors or expungement can bring family and social benefits. It can lead to strong relationships in the community.

  • Financial Improvement

Expungement or reducing a felony conviction to a misdemeanor can make securing loans, credit cards, etc., more accessible.

How Long Is the Expungement Process?

How Long Is the Expungement Process?

The expungement process in California involves several steps, and the duration can vary depending on different factors. This includes the complexity of the case and the court's caseload.

Seeking Legal Advice

Regarding expungement, the first step is to seek legal advice from an attorney specializing in such lawsuits. The initial consultation lets the criminal attorneys assess the defendant's eligibility.

Gathering Necessary Documents

Once the client decides to pursue expungement of their felony or misdemeanor, the next step is to collect crucial documents. This includes court records, sentencing orders, probation/parole statements, etc.

Filing for Expungement

Afterward, the defendant must submit the documents to the court. The timeline for this step depends on the court's procedure and schedule. It typically takes a few weeks to complete this phase.

Preparing for the Hearing

If the judge declares a hearing date, the person convicted must prepare for this stage of the process.

Preparation may include gathering references, creating a solid case, and ensuring all documents are in order. The timeline depends on how long the defendant needs to prepare and the court's caseload.

Final Expungement Hearing

The final expungement hearing is when the court reviews the petition and makes a decision. In this event, the length of the final hearing can vary. It can be anywhere between a few weeks to a month or two.

Final Words

California has specific rules for allowing expungement. However, the possibility of reducing a felony to a misdemeanor is subject to different requirements and limitations.

Similar to expunging a criminal record, lessening a felony conviction to a misdemeanor depends on how severe the crime is. Legal professionals play a vital role in guiding clients through the processes. Goss Law has answers to questions such as Will a felony show up after 7 years in California?

As stated above, not everyone can reduce the conviction (felony to a misdemeanor). Anyone who commits a murder or has to register as a sex offender is forever barred from expungement. Likewise, they must complete their county jail or state prison sentence before seeking parole.

Qualified lawyers from reputable law firms can help defendants understand the best possible outcomes for their cases. A district attorney has the knowledge and resources to navigate such instances.


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