In November 2014, California voters passed Proposition 47, a ballot initiative that makes important changes to California sentencing law. Specifically, penalties for many non-violent and non-serious drug and property crimes have been reduced from felonies and “wobblers” to misdemeanors.Types of Criminal Offenses
Violations of California criminal law are classified as felonies, misdemeanors, or wobblers. Felonies are the most serious category and come with the possibility of state prison, large fines, and - in extreme instances - the death penalty. Misdemeanors in contrast are penalized with time in county jail and more modest fines. Wobblers are offenses that can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors; thus they can “wobble” either way depending on the circumstances of the incident.Reduced Penalties
Proposition 47 reclassifies - and reduces the penalties for - the criminal violations described below. Keep in mind that the violations must be considered non-violent. In addition, serious offenses such as sex offenses, gun crimes, and murder will still be charged as felonies.Resentencing of People Previously Convicted
A key aspect of Proposition 47 is that it provides the possibility of resentencing for people who were found guilty of felonies under previous guidelines. What this means is that someone serving time in state prison for a felony conviction of one of the crimes listed below may ask the courts to review his case and have the sentence reclassified as a misdemeanor. Moreover, even someone who was previously convicted of a felony and has completed his sentence may petition to have the conviction changed to a misdemeanor, which can have important implications for finding employment.Reclassified Offenses
- Drug offenses - Under the law before Proposition 47, drug possession for personal use was a wobbler and thus could be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Now, though, people caught with illegal drugs will be charged with a misdemeanor as long as there is no evidence that there was an intention to sell the drugs. While the passage of Proposition 64 means that possession and use of an ounce or less of marijuana by an adult is legal, possession and use by adults of more than an ounce is still illegal and classified as a misdemeanor. See the Marijuana Laws page for more details on Proposition 64 and California criminal codes.
- Grand Theft - California law states that theft of property valued at $950 or less will in most cases be charged as a misdemeanor. Previously, theft had been a wobbler because prosecutors could bring felony charges if the incident involved specific types of property (like a car) or if the defendant had certain prior theft convictions. With Proposition 47, theft of something worth $950 or less will now in almost all instances be classified as a misdemeanor.
- Receiving Stolen Property - Where previous law classified receiving stolen property as a wobbler, this type of violation will now always be charged as a misdemeanor as long as the value of the property is $950 or less.
- Shoplifting - Where previous law allowed shoplifting to be classified as a burglary - which as a wobbler could be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony - the law after passage of Proposition 47 requires all instances of shoplifting of items valued at $950 or less to be charged as misdemeanors.
- Check Forgery - Check forgery for amounts of $950 or less will now always be charged as misdemeanors as long as no identity theft is involved. Previous law classified all instances of check forgery as wobblers.
- Writing Bad Checks - An instance of writing a bad check for $950 or less will now always be charged as a misdemeanor unless the defendant has three previous instances of forgery. Previous law classified bad check writing as a wobbler if the check was worth more than $450 or if there were previous convictions for forgery.
The passage of Proposition 47 is an important change to California sentencing law. Call me at 916-442-1200 to discuss your case.