On Election Day, Californians approved Proposition 47 (also known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act) to change the way the state’s criminal justice system will punish certain property and drug crimes. Prop 47, which passed with 58.5% of the vote, will amend the state’s sentencing laws to reduce the number of low-level, non-violent offenses that can be charged as felonies, meaning that fewer crimes will be eligible for punishment with prison sentences.
What Is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?
As far as punishment goes, the key difference between felonies and misdemeanors is the severity of the sentence. Usually, a crime is a misdemeanor in California if it is punishable by a year or less in a county jail, and may or may not also include a fine. If the crime calls for more than a year in a state prison, it is a felony.
Not only do felonies carry longer sentences in a prison instead of a jail, but they also have effects that last long after the sentence has been served, including the loss of a number of civil rights. For example, in California, if you have been convicted of a felony, you cannot vote if you are in prison for a felony, or even during your post-release parole. A felony conviction disqualifies you from enlisting in the military, and from owning or possessing a firearm.
A felony conviction can also pose a serious obstacle to finding a job. When applying for a job, a potential employer can ask you to disclose felony convictions, and can use them to exclude you from consideration. If you conceal your conviction and are hired, but the conviction is later discovered, the employer could fire you for dishonesty, which affects your ability to receive unemployment benefits.
Which Crimes Are Affected by Prop 47?
Under Prop 47, several crimes that had been felonies will be reclassified as misdemeanors.
Property crimes include:
- PC 459: Commercial Burglary
- PC 470: Forgery
- PC 476a(a): Passing Checks with Insufficient Funds (NSF Checks)
- PC 487: Grand Theft
- PC 496(a): Possession of Stolen Property
- PC 666/484(a): Petty Theft with Prior Convictions
Generally, if you commit one of these crimes, and the value of the property in question is $950 or less, Prop 47 will lower the class of the offense from a felony to a misdemeanor. Note, however, that many of these crimes will still be felonies under certain conditions, such as multiple convictions, or in connection with other crimes like identity theft.
Under Prop 47, these drug crimes will now carry a misdemeanor charge:
- H&S 11350(a): Possession of a Controlled Substance (Heroin, cocaine, etc.)
- H&S 11357(a): Possession of Concentrated Cannabis
- H&S 11377(a): Possession of Methamphetamine
With Prop 47, these drug crimes are now misdemeanors for the first offense. However, having a prior conviction for one of these crimes will allow new charges to be filed as felonies.
One Important Exception
For each of the crimes above, Prop 47 includes one important exception. If you commit one of these crimes has a prior conviction that required them to register as a sex offender under Penal Code §290, you are ineligible for the new classification, and must be charged with a felony under these laws.
What About Convictions Prior to Prop 47?
If you are currently serving a sentence for one of these crimes (including probation or parole), or have already completed a sentence, you may be eligible to have the felony conviction designated as a misdemeanor and/or resentenced as a misdemeanor.
If you are currently serving a sentence on the violation, you can have a hearing to reclassify your crime as a misdemeanor, and potentially have your sentence reduced. If you have already your sentence on the violation, a judge will review your case without a formal hearing and notify you by mail of his or her decision. The petition process is expected to take between 15 to 60 days, depending on the details of your case.
Contact Amy Schroder, a Professional California Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or someone you care about is charged with or is serving a sentence for one of the above crimes, an experienced attorney can help guide you through the process of having a felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor, and help you secure a reduced sentence on any current or previous convictions. As a former deputy district attorney, I have a wealth of experience in California criminal law, and I can help you through this.
Call the Law Office of Amy Schroder today at 714-744-4600 for a free consultation.