In November of 2014 Proposition 47 passed giving certain low-level, nonviolent felony convictions the opportunity to be reduced to misdemeanors on old criminal records. The law itself reclassified several categories of theft and drug possession crimes from felonies or “wobblers” (crimes that can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor) to straight misdemeanors. Prop 47 is a benefit to those who are facing charges, those with pending charges and those who are currently serving a sentence. Fortunately, it will also benefit those who already completed their sentences but would like to clean up their record.
There was a question before the court as to the procedure one must follow to get relief under Prop 47. People v. Shabazz addressed this question. On March 21, 2014, Lennal Shabazz pled no contest to two felonies: methamphetamine possession and receiving stolen property. The trial court sentenced him to two years in county jail. On November 4, 2014, the voters approved Proposition 47 which potentially entitled him to have his felony convictions reduced to misdemeanors as long as he did not have any disqualifying prior convictions. The issue before the court was whether they were able to reduce the convictions on direct appeal or whether he had to go back to the sentencing judge.
It was clear to the court that the plain meaning of the new code section did not intend for Prop 47 to automatically apply to prior qualifying convictions. The voters set forth specific procedures before a defendant may receive the reduction. The court came to the conclusion that the voters did not intend for Prop 47 to apply retroactively as to allow the court to modify the judgment on direct appeal. They found that the defendant had to make his petition before the sentencing court.
Before one seeks to get relief for their prior felonies under Prop 47 a few things must be considered. There is a list of specific crimes that are now misdemeanors under Pro 47:
• Any type of property theft if the value of the property is $950 or less
• Receiving stolen property, if the value of the property is $950 or less,
• Forgery, of a check, money order, etc. for $950 or less, unless the person is also convicted of identity theft,
• Passing bad checks for $950 or less, unless the person has three or more prior convictions,
• Petty theft with a prior,
• Possession of various controlled substances, including heroin and cocaine,
• Possession of concentrated cannabis,
• Possession of methamphetamine.
There are exclusions to Prop 47. Individuals with disqualifying priors are excluded from relief and may not convert their felonies to misdemeanors. The exclusions are:
• Those with any prior convictions for “serious or violent” offenses under Penal Code section 667(e)(2)(C)(iv), or
• Those with any prior convictions which require sex offender registration.
For those with pending charges ,that do not have disqualifying priors, the charges will automatically be reduced to a misdemeanor. The individual should not have to take any additional action for their felony charges to be converted to misdemeanors. However, they should confirm with their attorney that the district attorney and the judge are aware of the relief under Prop 47.
Individuals currently serving sentences that do not have disqualifying priors must petition the court in which they were sentenced to have their felony converted to a misdemeanor. However, the court does have discretion to withhold relief. If the court determines that the resentencing would present an unreasonable risk of danger to the public they are not required to grant the relief.
For those who have completed their sentence and do not have disqualifying priors, they may also petition the court in which they were sentenced to have their felony convictions converted to misdemeanors. If the applicant fits the eligibility then the petition must be granted. Unlike resentencing of those currently incarcerated, the court has no discretion to withhold relief in this situation.