In 2014, California voters passed an initiative called the "Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act," also known as "Proposition 47" or "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.
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.
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.
Prop 47 will not help those who have previous convictions for very serious crimes. These include:
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.
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.
Three offenses targeting possession of controlled substances for personal use are now misdemeanors:
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.)
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:
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.
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.)
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.