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The Safe Neighborhoods & Schools Act (Prop 47) Reduces Certain Felonies to Misdemeanors

The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act (Proposition 47) was passed by California voters on November 4th, 2014 with an expiration date of November 4th, 2017. Due to the success and popularity of the act, Governor Brown extended its expiration to November 4th, 2022.

The purpose of this law is to reduce certain nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors, such as possession of drugs, shoplifting, writing bad checks, and other charges. Proposition 47 allows defendants charged and convicted of certain felonies to petition the court to reduce their conviction to a misdemeanor after the fact.

Many employers will not hire a person convicted of a felony but will hire a person convicted of only a misdemeanor. Prop 47 allows convicts a better chance at self-improvement through gainful employment by redefining a felony to a misdemeanor.

“Wobbler” Offenses & Proposition 47

Some crimes in California may be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, under the discretion of the District Attorney’s Office. These crimes are called “wobblers” because they “wobble” between being a felony and being a misdemeanor.

Most property crimes are “wobblers,” for example. As a result, many property crime cases that could have been charged as misdemeanors were actually charged as felonies. Under Proposition 47, if the value of the property in a property crime case was $950 or less, the felony conviction could be reduced to a misdemeanor.

The Unique Case of People v Wehr

Receiving stolen property (Penal Code § 496) is another “wobbler” offense that might be changeable under Prop 47. In a recent case, People v Wehr, the defendant was convicted of receiving stolen property, a vehicle. The vehicle in question was valued at under $950. Wehr was charged with and convicted of felony P.C. § 496 and sentenced to 9 years in state prison.

Wehr petitioned under Prop 47 to have the court reduce his sentence on the basis that Prop 47 made his crime a misdemeanor, and therefore punishable with only one year in county jail at most. The judge denied his motion and affirmed the 9-years prison sentence.

In the original proceedings, the prosecution presented no evidence as to the value of the stolen vehicle. To prove felony P.C. § 496, it was the prosecution’s burden to prove the vehicle had a value of $951 or more.

When Wehr filed an appeal, the appellate court took into consideration the legislative intent of Proposition 47, as stated by a legislative analyst in the voter’s pamphlet for such. It stated, “[…] after Proposition 47’s passage, receiving stolen property worth $950 or less would always be a misdemeanor.” (Voter Information Guide, Gen. Elec., Analysis of Prop. 47 by Legis. Analyst, p. 35, emphasis added.)

The pamphlet did not distinguish between receiving stolen vehicles and other types of property. Thus, the most reasonable interpretation of Proposition 47 as it applies to P.C. § 496 is that receiving a stolen vehicle worth $950 or less, just like receiving any other stolen property worth $950 or less, is always a misdemeanor.

In Wehr, the appellate court held consistent with the above reasoning, that the Legislature’s intent in drafting Proposition 47, and the voters’ intent in passing such, was to have conviction of a P.C. § 496 charge wherein the property is a vehicle having either an unproven or proven-to-be-only-$950-or-less value, must result in only a misdemeanor conviction for such.

For Mr. Wehr specifically, the appellate court ruled the prosecution could either accept reduction of his conviction to a misdemeanor, or retry the case wherein the prosecution would be permitted to introduce evidence that the value of the vehicle was $951 or more.

Can Prop 47 Help You, Too?

If you are facing pending felony property crime charges in California, or even if you have already been convicted of a felony property crime, our lawyers here at Law Office of Ivan O.B. Morse may be able to help. Using our decades of collective criminal defense experience, we can see if Prop 47 applies to your case, as well as other defense strategies. Call (888) 865-0741 now for a free consultation.