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Name: People v. Casillas
Case #: F071951
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 5 DCA
Opinion Date: 07/26/2017

A petitioner is disqualified from Proposition 47 relief if he has suffered a super strike conviction any time before the trial court rules on his or her reclassification petition, even if the disqualifying super strike conviction occurred after the felony for which the petitioner is seeking reclassification. Casillas was convicted of felony possession of a controlled substance in 2006. (Health & Saf. Code, § 11377, subd. (a).) In 2013, he was convicted of attempted murder (Pen. Code, §§ 187, subd. (a), 664) among other felonies. In 2015, Casillas filed a petition to reduce his 2006 felony drug conviction to a misdemeanor pursuant to Proposition 47. The trial court denied his petition on the ground that he had a prior conviction for attempted murder, a super strike offense. Casillas appealed, arguing that a disqualifying “prior conviction” should apply only to those super strike convictions that predate the offense for which relief is sought. Held: Affirmed. Proposition 47, passed in November 2014, allows certain individuals to petition the court to have their felony convictions designated as misdemeanors and their penalties reduced unless the individual has one or more prior convictions for so-called super strike offenses. (See Pen. Code, § 1170.18.) Applying principles of statutory construction, the court determined that the plain language of the statute was ambiguous as to the meaning of “prior conviction” so it subsequently reviewed the official election materials to determine the voters’ intent. Based on the repeated assurances that those convicted of dangerous crimes could not benefit from the law, it would make no sense for the court to construe the phrase “prior conviction” as limited only to those convictions that preceded the crime a defendant seeks to reclassify as a misdemeanor. Accordingly, the court held that “prior conviction,” as used in section 1170.18, subdivision (i), refers to a conviction suffered any time before the court’s ruling on an application to have a felony conviction reclassified as a misdemeanor.

Trial court did not err in denying Proposition 47 relief based on a conviction for a super strike offense that was not yet final. Casillas also argued that his 2013 attempted murder conviction did not disqualify him from relief because, at the time the trial court decided his 2015 petition, that conviction was not yet “final.” The Court of Appeal disagreed. Because section 1170.18, subdivision (i) does not expressly define “conviction,” the court applied the rules of statutory construction. The ordinary legal meaning of “conviction” is “a verdict of guilty or the confession of the defendant in open court, and not the sentence or judgment.” (People v. Castello (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 1242, 1253.) Casillas’ proposed definition of “conviction” as a conviction that is final could frustrate the purpose of Proposition 47 and lead to absurd results by allowing a person with a super strike offense to obtain Proposition 47 relief merely because an appeal is pending.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: