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Name: People v. Delapena
Case #: H041363
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 6 DCA
Opinion Date: 07/30/2015
Subsequent History: Review granted 10/28/2015: S229010

Appellate court was not required to reduce appellant’s felony drug possession offense to a misdemeanor because Proposition 47 is not retroactive. Delapena pled no contest to felony possession of methamphetamine (Health & Saf. Code, § 11377, subd. (a)) after his motion to suppress evidence was denied. On appeal, he asked that his conviction be reduced to a misdemeanor pursuant to Proposition 47. Respondent countered that Proposition 47 is not retroactive, and that Delapena had to file a petition for reduction of his sentence in the trial court. Held: Reduction denied. The statutes amended by Proposition 47 include Health and Safety Code section 11377, subdivision (a), which is now punishable as a misdemeanor if the defendant has no disqualifying priors. Penal Code section 1170.18 provides the procedure whereby qualified defendants may seek resentencing pursuant to Proposition 47. In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal.2d 740, held that when the Legislature (or electorate) amends a statute to reduce the punishment for an offense, courts will assume the Legislature intended the reduction to apply to all cases not yet final, absent evidence to the contrary. However, when the Legislature clearly signals its intent to make the statute prospective, by inclusion of an express savings clause or its equivalent, the rule of Estrada is not implicated. The creation of the petition process in section 1170.18 is the functional equivalent of a savings clause; it signals the electorate’s intent that a certain group of qualified defendants (i.e., those sentenced prior to Prop. 47’s passage) follow those procedures. This ensures that the trial court will conduct a review of the defendant’s criminal history and perform a risk assessment so that anyone who presents a risk to public safety or who is otherwise disqualified will not benefit from the law. Appellant may file a petition in the trial court for reduction of his offense.

Principles of equal protection do not require the retroactive application of Proposition 47. There is a rational basis for Proposition 47’s procedural distinction between those defendants who were not yet sentenced before its passage and those who are already serving a term for affected felonies. The determination that a defendant qualifies for sentence reduction often depends on factual issues. The electorate could reasonable decide that defendants who were sentenced prior to Proposition 47’s passage may only obtain relief by following the section 1170.18 procedures, which allow the trial court to make the necessary factual findings.