Friday, May 11, 2012

People v. Smith (Cal. Sup. Ct. App. Div. - May 2, 2012)

Let's test your knowledge.  You know what a "wobbler" is, right?  What's a "wobblette"?

You can probably figure it out from the context.  A wobbler is an offense that can either be a felony or a misdemeanor.  A wobblette is an offense that can either be a misdemeanor or an infraction.

I didn't know until today that the latter existed.  But apparently it does.

The interesting thing about a wobblette is that the decision regarding how it's charged is up to the defendant, not the prosecutor or the court.  At least in part.  Generally, being charged with an infraction -- colloquially, a "ticket" -- is better for the defendant.  No jail time.  Less exposure.  Happiness.  But it also means that you give up certain rights; for example, the right to a jury trial.  There are circumstances in which you might not want to do that.

For that reason, the Appellate Division rightly holds that a defendant has the right to be informed at his hearing that he has the right to have the offense heard as a misdemeanor if he wants.  He's giving up constitutional rights if the case proceeds as an infraction, after all.  He might well be fine with that.  But he's entitled to be told that he has options.  And not be told, as here, that he affirmatively does not have the right to a jury trial.  That's right as far as it goes.  But he's also got the contrary right to have a jury trial if he wants to go the misdemeanor route.

Didn't know about wobblettes.  Happy to hear about 'em.  Happy that the Appellate Division rightly decides the appeal.