Resentencing Under California's Proposition 47

Prop 47 downgraded many theft and drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors for qualifying defendants.

By , Attorney (McGeorge School of Law)
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law

In 2014, California voters passed an initiative called the "Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act," also known as "Proposition 47" or "Prop 47."

What Is California's Prop 47?

Prop 47 implemented changes to California's felony sentencing laws. The goal of the law is to focus prison dollars on the most serious and violent offenders and maximize less costly alternatives for low-level, nonviolent crimes.

Prop 47 made three changes to felony sentencing laws.

  • Downgraded certain theft and drug possession offenses. The law downgraded certain theft and drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors for qualifying defendants. (More on qualifying defendants in the next section.)
  • Resentencing. Defendants who were serving a sentence for a felony that would have qualified as a misdemeanor under Prop 47 could ask the court for resentencing.
  • Reclassification. Defendants who have completed a felony sentence that would have qualified as a misdemeanor sentence can petition the court to reclassify their conviction.

Read on for a general overview of Prop 47, including a section on changing your record of conviction. The law doesn't benefit those who have prior convictions for serious or violent felonies or sex offenses that require registration. Consider speaking to a criminal defense attorney for more details.

Who Can Benefit From California's Prop 47?

Not everyone who is facing charges covered by Prop 47, or who has convictions for the crimes the proposition addresses, will benefit from the proposition's reductions. To qualify for new misdemeanor sentencing, resentencing, or reclassification, the person must have a record free from certain sex offense convictions and serious or violent felony convictions.

Ineligible Priors

Prop 47 will not help those who have previous convictions for very serious crimes. These include:

  • sexually violent offenses and sex offenses against minors under the age of 14
  • murder, attempted murder, and solicitation to commit murder
  • assault with a machine gun on a police officer or firefighter
  • possession of a weapon of mass destruction
  • any offense punishable in California by life in prison or death, or
  • any offense that requires registration as a sex offender under Penal Code section 290(c).

Resentencing; Unreasonable Risk

People who are still serving their sentences, and who are at risk of committing one of the offenses listed above, may also be excluded from Prop 47's benefits, even if they have no prior convictions for the crimes listed above.

What Crimes Are Covered Under Prop 47?

Proposition 47 targets a limited number of crimes—drug possession for personal use (not sale or manufacture) and specified theft offenses for amounts less than $950.

Drug Possession Offenses

Three offenses targeting possession of controlled substances for personal use are now misdemeanors:

  • possession of narcotic controlled substances such as cocaine, heroin, morphine, or other opiates
  • possession of restricted dangerous drugs which would include stimulants (such as methamphetamines) or hallucinogenics (such as psilocybin), and
  • possession of concentrated cannabis (hashish).

For example, possession of cocaine, a violation of Health and Safety Code section 11350, used to be a felony charge. Under Prop 47, it's a misdemeanor charge—unless the defendant has a prior conviction for a serious or violent felony or sex offense requiring registration (as explained above). In that case, the charge remains a felony.

(Cal. Health & Safety Code §§ 11350, 11357(a), 11377.)

Theft Offenses

Prop 47 made significant changes to several code sections related to certain theft crimes. The most important change was to take away the prosecution's discretion in filing these types of crimes as either a felony or a misdemeanor (this option earned these crimes the name "wobblers"). Now, the prosecutor may charge only a misdemeanor if the amount in question is not more than $950 and the person does not have a disqualifying prior.

These theft crimes are:

  • Petty theft. Any type of property theft, when the value of the property is $950 or less (Cal. Penal Code §§ 459.5, 490.2.)
  • Receiving stolen property worth $950 or less. (Cal. Penal Code § 496.)
  • Forgery of a check, money order, and so on for $950 or less, unless the person is also convicted of identity theft under section 530.5. (Cal. Penal Code § 473.)
  • Petty theft with a prior, unless the person has a prior conviction for certain theft, burglary, robbery, or elder fraud offenses and served time. (Cal. Penal Code § 666.)
  • Insufficient funds for $950 or less, unless the person has three or more prior convictions for this section or sections 470, 475, or 476. (Cal. Penal Code § 476a.)

    Shoplifting

    Prop 47 also added a new crime of shoplifting, which formerly could be prosecuted as a theft or burglary charge, regardless of the amount of merchandise involved. This new, separate crime is defined as entering a commercial dwelling, such as a convenience store, while the establishment is open and during regular business hours, with the intent to commit a theft, so long as the value of the property is less than $950. (Cal. Penal Code § 459.5.)

    This is an important change because the law used to allow this conduct to be charged as commercial burglary, a more serious felony punishable by up to three years in prison; or as a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in the county jail, within the discretion of the prosecution. Now the act of shoplifting may not be charged as a burglary or any other theft and is punishable only by a maximum county jail term of six months.

    Persons Convicted of Prop 47 Felonies

    People who have been convicted of Prop 47 felonies, no matter how recently or long ago, are entitled to request resentencing or reclassification as misdemeanants, by filing an application or petition with the court where they were convicted. This applies to those long ago released from custody or probation, and those still serving time. (The legislature eliminated the November 4, 2022 deadline.)

    Changing Your Record of Conviction

    Many public defender offices around the state have implemented procedures to help their former clients and answer questions about whether the clients are eligible to return to court for resentencing or redesignation. Several county courts and public defender offices have posted forms on their websites that can be used to assist in the petition or application process.

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