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Attorneys William R. Christoph & Nicholas W. Christoph

New California Penal Code 1170.18 (aka Prop 47) makes many theft and drug crimes misdemeanors in California


A new law in California has reduced certain felony drug and property crime charges into misdemeanors.

California recently voted in favor of Prop 47, a law designed to reduce the charges to misdemeanors for certain nonviolent drug and property crimes including theft. Those in favor of the law state that it will help reduce the high number of inmates in jail and state prison and also help avoid a felony record for those who commit simple drug possession and minor theft crimes. This law applies retroactively and is available for anyone with a prior conviction for these offenses to have them made misdemeanors. It does not reinstate firearm rights for those have their charges reduced under this section. There are other sections, which can apply in some cases, which also provide for reduction to a misdemeanor and do return firearm rights.

Misdemeanors instead of felonies

Under previous law, the drug and property crimes that were covered by Prop 47 – (now California Penal Code (PC) 1170.18) were felonies. There are a few limited exceptions where the charges may still be felonies and a complete review of the entire law will provide the details.

A felony conviction in California carries the possibility of incarceration in local jail for up to a year or a much longer state prison sentence. Crimes falling under this law will now be charged as misdemeanors and prior convictions can be changed to misdemeanors. This would make county jail time up to 6 months or a year (depending on the charge) the maximum sentence available instead of state prison, informal probation instead of formal, and a misdemeanor fine or a mix of all three penalties.

More on P.C. 1170.18 (aka Prop 47)

PC 1170.18 prevents felonies from even being charged for certain drug and property crimes such as low-level nonviolent personal use drug possession and theft crimes where the taking does not exceed $950 in value. This applies no matter how many prior theft offenses an individual may have. It is important to note that there are a few exceptions for people with certain very serious “strike” convictions or PC 290(c) serious registerable sex offenses that may still receive a felony charge for these crimes and are not covered by this law. Generally, the new law includes:

  • Misdemeanor charges for any theft valued at $950 or less regardless of theft priors, including shoplifting, receiving stolen property, writing bad checks, check forgery, and some other theft related offenses.
  • Misdemeanor charges for drug possession for personal use of most illegal drugs and including cocaine and heroin (which were non-reducible felonies up to this time) hashish and methamphetamine.

The Attorney General’s office estimated in the proposition that the law would impact about 40,000 individuals accused of these types of crimes annually in addition to those already sentenced. The passage of this law would also allow individuals currently serving time or any sentence for qualifying offenses to have their charges made misdemeanors and be resentenced.

Prior convictions for the enumerated charges can also be changed to misdemeanors for those who have already completed their sentence. There is a deadline for filing for the reduction or resentencing. Petitions or applications for reduction or resentencing must be filed within 3 years of November 5, 2014 or there must be “good cause” as to why it was not done in order to benefit from this law. This allows individuals to have their criminal record changed to reflect a misdemeanor conviction instead of a felony. This helps greatly with such things as employability.

A Court does have some discretion to not change the charge to a misdemeanor and resentence where a defendant is still serving a sentence and it appears likely he or she will commit a new violent felony and finds an “unreasonable public safety risk” exists.

The law is estimated to result in the potential release of 10,000 individuals in the state of California who were charged as felons for nonviolent crimes. The law requires those currently serving time for these crimes receive a misdemeanor and be resentenced in most cases, thereby resulting in their release from custody unless there is something else holding them in custody.

In addition to giving these individuals an opportunity to restart their lives by no longer having a felony record, the law will likely also translate to a savings to the state in the “high hundreds of millions of dollars annually,” according to the official voter information guide.

Legal counsel can help

Whether currently serving time for a qualifying crime, recently charged or having completed a sentence for an eligible offense, it is wise for those who are charged or have been convicted of these drug and theft related crimes to seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense lawyers near me to understand the law, qualifications and the filing requirements to accomplish the reduction. This law is retroactive but is not automatically applied, it only will happen for those who file the appropriate paperwork and follow the legal procedures which the Courts are developing at this time to get the misdemeanor.

Keywords: criminal defense

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