When Can a Felony Be Reduced to a Misdemeanor?

A felony is the most serious type of offense. It can be either violent or nonviolent. Typically, you serve more than a year in a state or federal prison.  A misdemeanor crime is less serious than a felony but more serious than a citation.

Typically, a misdemeanor carries a jail term of less than one year. A misdemeanor can be a crime that is neither a felony nor an infraction. You serve jail time in a local or county jail. So, you will probably be close to home.

With a felony you will be in a prison or penitentiary and away from your family. Also, you will have higher fines. As a convicted felon you are unable to vote, hold office, or own a firearm. A felon can not serve on a jury, either.

Both a felony and a misdemeanor stay on your record for life. With both a felony or a misdemeanor you may lose your professional license or permit. With a felony or a misdemeanor getting a job is difficult.

This blog post covers when a felony can be reduced to a misdemeanor.

  • Getting Hired With a Felony Or a Misdemeanor
  • How a Felony Can be Reduced to a Misdemeanor
  • A Look at Florida
  • Seeking Remedy Through The Court System
  • Helpful Resources

Getting Hired With a Felony Or a Misdemeanor

Potential employers can ask about your criminal history. The Equal Employee Opportunity Commission(EEOC) prohibits employers from using your criminal history in their hiring decisions.

Using your criminal history is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act also prevents employers from not hiring you based on your criminal history. Title VII-protected individuals are African Americans and Hispanics.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act(FCRA) has guidelines for employers when they use third parties to get background checks. These background checks can include your criminal history and your credit history.

The EEOC states that employers must allow you the chance to explain your circumstances. You must sign an agreement for employers to order a background check.  The FCRA requires employers to give you a copy of the background-check report. This enables you to read about the employer’s decision. You can also correct anything on it.

Get a background check of yourself before your interview. This way you can practice responses for questions during the interview.

How a Felony Can Be Reduced to a Misdemeanor

If you want to vote, possess a firearm, or serve as a juror getting your felony reduced to a misdemeanor may be worth your while. Not all felonies can be reduced to a misdemeanor. If it can it is called a “wobbler”.

A “wobbler” is a crime that can be punished as a felony or a misdemeanor. For example, in California if the criminal code section states that the crime is punishable in county jail and/or state prison it is a wobbler. Originally, a wobbler was intended to keep flexibility in the criminal justice system.

Not all felony crimes are wobblers. Murder and manslaughter, for instance, are not.

Just because the crime is a wobbler felony does not mean it can be reduced to a misdemeanor. Wobblers apply only to first-time offenders, minors, and to situations where the defendant was hindered or altered in some way that lessens their intent.

The prosecutor decides how the defendant will be charged.  The judge decides on the sentencing.

Judges can also reduce the charge before sentencing takes place. You might even be able to reduce your felony to a misdemeanor if you were convicted of a wobbler felony.

In any event, you should seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney. Always be honest about your situation.

In California, some examples of wobblers are:

  • 2nd degree burglary
  • Grand theft
  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Possession of methamphetamine

Certain conditions must exist for you to be eligible to get your felony reduced. You must have never been sentenced to state prison. If you were, the crime is a permanent felony. If you were sentenced to state prison, the sentence was stayed and you were on probation it is a permanent felony.

A Look at Florida

Reducing a felony to a misdemeanor in Florida is not so straight forward. Serious crimes such as terrorism, sex crimes, or really violent crimes are felonies which are never eligible for being reduced.

In Florida, there are three ways a felony crime can be reduced to a misdemeanor. They are through a plea bargain, error in charges, and with good behavior.

Through a plea bargain you accept responsibility for some of the charges provided they are lowered to a misdemeanor. It helps if you show remorse. The prosecution considers this a victory because it saves money spent having a trial. Law enforcement still considers this a “win.”

An error in charges can also reduce your felony to a misdemeanor. For example, in a felony aggravated assault case prosecutors may be willing to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor simple battery.  This happens when the medical evidence shows that the victim’s injury was not as severe as initially thought. In other words the injury does not meet the level of “aggravated” assault.

You may be able to get your felony reduced from your good behavior. For example, if you get multiple years of probation. But, during that time, you must demonstrate good behavior,  rehabilitate  yourself, and stay out of trouble. The court might be convinced to withhold adjudication of your guilt on the felony. This means that you are not a convicted felon.

Seeking Remedy Through The Court System

If you are unable to get your record reduced to a misdemeanor, you might try to get it expunged or sealed. That means that your record is wiped clean as if you never committed the crime. You will be able to legally claim that you do not have a felony record. The exact process depends on the state where you live.

Expunged means your records are destroyed. You may be able to get your record sealed. However, if you were to commit another crime or be in suspicion of a crime, you record could be unsealed. A criminal defense attorney may be required for this action.

You will need to demonstrate initiative—that you are actively attempting to get back into society. This can be done by going to counseling, advancing in your education, and being gainfully employed.

Again, having completed some type of re-entry program is extremely helpful toward self improvement. It is also a way of demonstrating to the court that you are rehabilitated. Felons who have committed multiple felonies or rape can not get their records expunged.

If you never committed the felony you can seek a pardon or a Certificate of  Actual Innocence. A pardon is a form of clemency. You are forgiven for your crime but you still have your felony record. You can be eligible for a presidential pardon five years after your sentence or release from confinement. A presidential pardon does not expunge your record.

A Certificate of Actual  Innocence says that you are innocent and that you should have never been arrested. It states that the criminal mark should have never existed in the first place. You can not get a Certificate of Actual Innocence in every state.

In The Case of Florida

In Florida you can have your record expunged or sealed. However, state and federal law enforcement agencies will still have access to your records. Judges have access to your sealed records online.

If you are a defendant you might have to reveal your felony conviction. For example, if you are  trying to become a court appointed guardian.

Many employers will still have access to your sealed or expunged records.

In Florida, expunging or sealing a record does not update onto federal or private databases. Private companies can purchase the information from the counties and state.

Helpful Resources

Many resources exist throughout the country to help you clear up your record. The San Jose State University(SJSU) Record Clearance Project(RCP) will help you reduce your eligible felony to a misdemeanor. This initiative also helps felons get their records expunged.

The Clean Slate Clearinghouse involves low-level convictions and cases where there were no convictions. It helps make people aware that they are eligible to get their record cleared.  It also eliminates the cost of attorneys and other fees for the process.

Pennsylvania has enacted a clean slate law. Utah and Connecticut are set to follow suit as well as other states.

Always make the right decisions to keep yourself out of prison. Don’t fall back into bad habits. Stay connected with your support systems. Seek guidance from family members and clergy.

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