On November 4, 2014 voters in California passed Proposition 47 which redefined certain non-violent offenses as misdemeanors that had previously been categorized as felonies. These non-violent offenses include shoplifting, writing bad checks, and simple drug possession. The measure also required that money saved, primarily due to reducing the inmate population, would be spent on:
“school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, mental health and drug abuse treatment, and other programs designed to keep offenders out of prison and jail”
It is important to understand that Proposition 47 made exceptions for criminal offenses that involve more than $950 and criminals who have records of violent or sexual offenses or certain gun crimes (excludable offenses under Proposition 47). If you are in the sex offender registry you will not be eligible for resentencing. It also specified that even if your felony charge is reduced to a misdemeanor, gun rights will not be restored. The measure is retroactive so it not only affects future convictions but it also allows those who are currently incarcerated for crimes covered by the measure to petition for resentencing.
Proposition 47 met some opposition by those who felt that it would be releasing dangerous criminals back into the community. However, those who may be eligible for sentence reductions must undergo a thorough review of their criminal history, as well as risk assessment, to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public before resentencing.
Which felony charges can be reduced to a misdemeanor under Proposition 47?
Proposition 47 requires misdemeanor sentencing instead of felony sentencing for the following criminal offenses:
- Shoplifting (if the value of the stolen property does not exceed $950)
- Grand Theft (if the value of the stolen property does not exceed $950)
- Receiving Stolen Property (if the value of the stolen property does not exceed $950)
- Forgery (if the value of the forged check, bond or bill does not exceed $950)
- Fraud (if the value of the fraudulent check, draft or order does not exceed $950)
- Writing a bad check (if the value of the bad check does not exceed $950)
- Simple drug possession
Can I be resentenced if I am currently incarcerated?
Yes, if you are serving a sentence related to one of the criminal offenses listed above you may be eligible to petition for resentencing and release. As mentioned above, if you are incarcerated for criminal offenses related to violent crimes such as murder, sexual offenses, or you are listed in the sex offender registry, you will not be eligible. If you were represented by an attorney in your criminal case it is advised you contact them for assistance filing the petition. If you were represented by a public defender you can contact the public defender’s office.
Can I have a prior felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor?
Yes, as mentioned the law is retroactive, meaning it applies to past convictions as well. Regardless of how long ago you were convicted, you may be eligible for resentencing under Proposition 47. This is true even if you were previously denied a sentence reduction at any pre-conviction court hearing, at sentencing, or after requesting an expungement.
Will I get out of jail or prison if my sentence is reduced?
In both cases it depends on the circumstances of your particular case. Typically in misdemeanor cases the maximum jail time is one year. If you receive a sentencing reduction and have already served more than the maximum time you should be released. If, however, you have not yet served the maximum time the court may hold a hearing to determine whether or not your sentence should be reduced. It is important to understand that if you have other charges that require jail time you will not be released even if you do receive a reduction on other charges.
In regards to prison sentences, if you have no other charges requiring prison time you should be released if your charges are reduced to a misdemeanor since misdemeanor charges do not require prison time. If your case is reduced to a misdemeanor the maximum jail time is one year per charge. As mentioned, you cannot be sentenced to prison for a misdemeanor, but you can be sentenced to county jail
Filing a petition and the process of resentencing
Having a felony reduced to a misdemeanor under Proposition 47 is a process. However, no hearing is required to update your record unless questions regarding your eligibility need to be addressed, in which case there may be a court hearing. You have to submit a form to the courthouse of the county in which you were convicted and also provide a copy to the district attorney’s office. Some counties have created their own forms and in those cases you should use the forms that they provide. For example, Fresno County has it’s own set of Proposition 47 Instructions and Forms but also warns that it could take more than 60 days before you receive notification from the Court after submitting an application or petition.
The California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation describes the process thoroughly:
- Inmates need to file a petition for recall of sentence with the trial court. Inmates can file an application with the sentencing court to have a previous conviction designated as a misdemeanor.
- The county court will determine whether the inmate’s criminal offense history makes him/her eligible for resentencing.
Under the new law, the court is required to resentence eligible offenders unless it determines that resentencing would pose an unreasonable risk to public safety, as specified.
- When determining the risk to public safety, the court may consider the offender’s criminal history, the types of crimes committed and when they occurred, the extent of injury to victims, the length of prior prison commitments, the inmate’s disciplinary and rehabilitation records while incarcerated, and any other relevant evidence.
- Offenders whose requests for resentencing are denied by the courts would continue to serve their terms as originally sentenced
Inmates eligible for resentencing must file their petition or application to the court that sentenced them no later than November 2017. As mentioned above, following risk assessment, if it is determined that no unreasonable risk to public safety exists it is required that eligible inmates be resentenced.
This information is provided as a reference only and it is strongly recommended that you consult with a criminal defense attorney for more specific information. Proposition 47 can change lives. Having a felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor can restore voting rights, improve chances of employment, the ability to qualify for student loans and public housing assistance.