5th Nov 2014
Simple Possession of Drugs for Personal Use No Longer a Felony as Voters Pass Prop. 47
California will no longer prosecute simple possession of drugs such as cocaine, heroin and even LSD as felonies in most cases under the “Safe Neighborhoods & Schools” initiative passed by voters on November 4, 2014. Changes to the law also include reducing certain property crimes which are currently wobblers (offenses that can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors) to straight misdemeanors. The new laws carve out an exception, however. People who have certain prior strike convictions or who are required to register as sexual offenders are excluded from the new law’s provisions.
Under current law, a person who commits a shoplifting offense where the property taken is valued at less than $950.00 would be guilty of petit theft, a straight misdemeanor. However, the prosecutor has the discretion of filing a burglary charge as well, despite the amount taken. Under existing law, burglary is a wobbler–it can be charged as a felony at the prosecutor’s discretion. After Prop. 47, however, a commercial burglary involving a loss of $950 or less has been turned into a straight misdemeanor and the prosecutor does not have the discretion of filing as a felony. This is also true of writing bad checks and other similar offenses.
The changes to the drug laws are explicitly retroactive. Defendants who are currently on felony probation or serving felony sentences on drug charges are entitled to be resentenced to misdemeanors. People with felony convictions on their record may petition to have the offense reclassified as a misdemeanor. This is welcome news for tens of thousands of people with felony records due to drug convictions.
The changes to various laws are effective November 5, 2014–the day following the election–since the initiative did not contain any specified effective date.