California law allows prosecutors to decide whether to charge certain offenses as either alternative felonies or misdemeanors. Because they can be charged either way, these charges are commonly called “wobblers,” including simple possession of certain drugs such as:

  • Methamphetamine
  • MDMA (ecstasy)
  • PCP
  • Certain hallucinogens

Not all drug charges are considered “wobblers.” Charges for simple possession for personal use of other drugs such as cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, and opiates are “non-alternative felonies.”

Classifying charges in this way has created a real disparity in punishment. It has also complicated later attempts to clear a criminal record of drug charges, depending on which substance was used. A person accused of using methamphetamine, for example, may be charged with a misdemeanor instead of a felony—or could later get the charge reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor after successfully completing probation. On the other hand, if the same person was caught with cocaine – no matter how small the amount – it’s charged as – and would always be considered a felony, even if he or she completes probation.

Next time, we will discuss pending legislation regarding “wobblers” in California and it’s effect on the current law.

If you or someone you know is accused of a crime, arrested, or contacted by police, contact San Jose criminal defense attorney Maureen Baldwin at (408) 279-4450 to learn your options today!