This month California voters passed Proposition 47, enacting new law that reduces common drug and theft crimes from potential felonies to misdemeanors. Crimes covered by the new law include simple drug possession and certain theft offenses when less than $950 is involved, including shoplifting, petty and grand theft, forgery, check fraud, and possession of stolen goods. The law is in effect NOW and is having a significant effect.
Who is covered by the new law? The law applies to future crimes and also retroactively, to persons currently serving a sentence in jail or prison, persons on felony probation and to persons who have already completed their sentence. The only persons who do not qualify are those with a prior conviction for a “super strike” (see Penal Code Section 667(e)(2)(C)(iv) – crimes like murder, aggravated sexual assault, and any serious or violent felony punishable by life imprisonment or death) and persons who are required to register as sex offenders pursuant to Penal Code Section 290(c).
How does the law work? A person who is currently serving a sentence for conviction of a felony, which would have been a misdemeanor under Prop 47, files a petition with the court for “recall of sentence” and the matter is brought before the court for a hearing. At the hearing, the Judge must resentence the person to a misdemeanor, unless the court finds that resentencing would “pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.” If that person has already served the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor, they must be released. If a person on probation for a felony conviction is resentenced to a misdemeanor, that person will have their felony probation immediately terminated.
If a person has already completed their felony sentence they may file an application to have the felony designated as a misdemeanor. No hearing is required. It should be noted that such resentencing does not permit the person to own a firearm, even though they are no longer a convicted felon.
Prop 47 passed with 59 percent of the vote. According to Lenore Anderson, chair of the initiative ballot committee, California voters “understand that the policies of the past have failed and that we cannot incarcerate our way to safety” by wasting costly prison space on nonviolent, non-serious offenses. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that Prop 47 will result in about 40,000 fewer charges resulting in incarceration per year. In terms of space in state prisons and county jails, that adds up to a lot of free beds, which also means a lot of money saved. The law provides that the savings will go to programs for drug treatment, schools and victim services. The majority of the funds, 65 percent, will go to programs aimed at supporting mental health and substance abuse treatment and diversion programs for people in the criminal justice system.
Of course, persons with felony convictions face serious obstacles when it comes to obtaining jobs, housing, financial aid for college and other forms of public assistance. Removing these barriers can significantly reduce recidivism rates, and keep future inmates out of the criminal justice system’s revolving door.
What should you do if you think you may be covered by the new law? If you think you may be covered by the provisions of Prop 47, you should immediately contact your lawyer, or the lawyer that represented you when you were convicted and seek their advice. You can also contact any experienced local criminal defense attorney to seek help in filing a petition or application to reduce your felony conviction to a misdemeanor.
If you have a question about the new law and how it may apply to you or a loved one, call Bay Area Criminal Defense Attorney and Oakland Criminal Defense Attorney Robbi A. Cook for a free consultation at (510)208-5051.