A "wobbler," in criminal procedure parlance, is a crime that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. That discretion is normally left up to prosecutors, although in some states judges may reduce felonies to misdemeanors under certain circumstances.
When it comes to DUIs, most drunk driving offenses are misdemeanors but may be bumped up to felonies depending on the specifics of the case. So, what makes a DUI a wobbler? And why does that matter to you?
The majority of state statutes classify DUIs as misdemeanors. This means you can face fines, driving restrictions, and less than a year behind bars. This can be true for even second- or third-time drunk driving convictions. However, in some states, repeat DUI offenses can become wobblers, allowing prosecutors to bring felony charges for a third or fourth drunk driving arrest.
In other instances, even a first-time DUI can become a felony:
While giving prosecutors or judges a choice on charges may not seem like a big deal at first, the difference between misdemeanor and felony penalties in wobbler DUI cases can be significant. First of all, any potential fines you face will be increased, and you may also be on the hook for financial restitution if the DUI resulted in property damage or physical injury. And incarceration time will go up as well -- from less than a year in jail to more than a year in prison.
There can be other consequences as well. Felony DUIs are more likely to lead to mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device that requires you to provide an alcohol-free breath sample in order to start your car or keep it running. And, if you were hoping to get a DUI expunged from your record, most states limit expungement to misdemeanor crimes.
Whether a wobbler DUI gets charged as a misdemeanor or a felony may be up to prosecutors, but how you handle those charges is up to you -- contact an experienced DUI attorney who may be able to defend you on those charges or negotiate a better deal.