In California, many crimes can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors, depending on the specific circumstances. As many people in Redwood City know, the difference in the penalties associated with a misdemeanor or felony charge can be sizable. California voters recently addressed this issue by passing Proposition 47, which limits charges for certain non-violent, non-serious "wobbler" crimes to misdemeanor charges.
More predictable, reasonable sentencing
The Legislative Analyst's Office states that the new sentencing laws affect six non-violent property and drug crimes. In most cases, people can no longer face felony charges for the following crimes:
- Possession of drugs for personal use - the legal change does not affect sentencing for marijuana possession, which can be charged as a misdemeanor or infraction.
- Theft of property worth less than $950 - this type of theft can no longer be charged as grand theft on the basis of the accused person's past criminal record or the type of property stolen.
- Shoplifting property worth less than $950 - this crime can no longer be charged as burglary, which can carry felony charges.
- Receiving stolen property with a value less than $950 - people found in possession of this property can only be charged with misdemeanors.
- Writing bad checks worth less than $950 - the law makes an exception for cases when the alleged offender has had three prior convictions of forgery.
- Forgery of checks worth under $950 - the law makes the same provisions for this offense as for writing bad checks.
Besides enacting different sentencing terms for future alleged offenders, these new laws apply retroactively to previously convicted offenders.
Early impacts of legal changes
Southern California Public Radio reports that these changes may affect as many as 4,000 current cases in Los Angeles alone. On a broader scale, the Legislative Analyst's Office states that every year, about 40,000 people in California are convicted of the six crimes that have been downgraded to misdemeanors, which means the changes could affect thousands of people this year. People convicted of these offenses now face shorter sentences, imprisonment in county jails rather than state jails and shorter periods of supervision after release.
Some people currently serving prison sentences for these offenses may be eligible for release, depending on their past records. Additionally, people who have been released after completing their sentences can request that their past convictions be downgraded to misdemeanors. This downgrading allows past offenders to regain various rights, including voting and applying for federal student loans or housing aid, according to Southern California Public Radio.
Even with these new sentencing laws, though, people convicted of any of these crimes may still face steep consequences. Anyone accused of criminal activity in California should meet with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible for advice on personal rights and potential defenses.