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Name: People v. Esquivel
Case #: S262551
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 06/17/2021

Opinion By: Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye (unanimous decision)
Legislation ameliorating punishment presumptively applies in a case where a defendant is placed on probation with execution of an imposed sentence suspended if the defendant may still timely obtain direct review of an order revoking probation and causing the sentence to take effect. Defendant pleaded no contest to a felony and admitted two prior prison term enhancements. In 2015, the trial court sentenced defendant to prison, suspended execution of the prison sentence, and placed him on probation. He did not challenge his sentence on appeal at this time. About three years later, defendant’s probation was revoked and the previously imposed sentence was executed. On appeal, he sought the ameliorative benefit of SB 136, which eliminated the one year prior prison term enhancement except for prison terms imposed for a sexually violent offense. The Court of Appeal held that defendant’s sentence became final when he did not appeal when the sentence was imposed and probation was granted, so he was not entitled to the benefit of the new law. The California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Reversed. Under the retroactivity principles announced in In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal.2d 740, ameliorative statutory changes that reduce or eliminate punishment, and which become effective prior to the time a conviction becomes final, apply retroactively. Here, the court examined the meaning and significance of Estrada’s finality limit. In discussing the reach of ameliorative new laws, Estrada referred not only to the finality of the judgment of conviction, but also to the finality of the case or prosecution. Following the reasoning in People v. McKenzie (2020) 9 Cal.5th 40, the court concluded defendant’s case was not final, for purposes of the Estrada presumption, because the “criminal prosecution or proceeding” brought against him was not complete when SB 136 took effect. Defendant had not exhausted direct review of the order causing his prison sentence to take effect, the time for him to seek that review had not expired, and he had not successfully completed probation. [Editor’s Note: The court made clear it did not need to draw any precise constitutional lines to resolve this case because “[t]he Estrada doctrine is one of presumed legislative intent, not of constitutional law.” The court noted “Estrada does not hold, and we do not imply, that the Legislature lacks constitutional authority to mitigate punishment connected to final criminal judgments.”]

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