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Name: People v. Hatt
Case #: B283463
District 2 DCA
Division: 6
Opinion Date: 02/07/2018
Summary

A person is not eligible for redesignation of a prior felony conviction to a misdemeanor under Proposition 47 if the person suffers a disqualifying conviction after filing an application but prior to a ruling on the application. While a murder charge was pending against him in another state, Hatt applied to have his 2003 felony drug conviction redesignated as a misdemeanor under Proposition 47. The People opposed the application, and the trial court granted its motion to continue the hearing until the outcome of the pending murder charges could be determined. Once the court learned that Hatt had been convicted of murder, it denied the application to redesignate the prior felony conviction as a misdemeanor. Hatt appealed. Held: Affirmed. Proposition 47 reduced a number of nonviolent drug and theft-related felonies to misdemeanors and allows qualified offenders previously convicted of such crimes to apply for reduced sentences or redesignation of certain felonies to misdemeanors after completion of their sentence (Pen. Code, § 1170.18). Certain prior convictions, including murder, preclude relief. The Court of Appeal determined that the term “prior conviction” in section 1170.18, subdivision (i) is ambiguous. After considering the voter materials to determine the voters’ intent, the appellate court concluded that the voters deemed irrelevant the sequence of the disqualifying conviction in relation to the conviction for which redesignation was sought. A “‘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 [redesignated] a misdemeanor.” (Quoting People v. Walker (2016) 5 Cal.App.5th 872, 876.)

There was good cause to postpone the Proposition 47 hearing in order to determine whether defendant would be convicted of a disqualifying offense in pending proceedings. Hatt also argued that the trial court abused its discretion by continuing the Proposition 47 hearing until after the conclusion of his pending murder case. The Court of Appeal disagreed. To determine whether good cause for a continuance exists, the court must consider whether substantial justice will be accomplished or defeated by granting the motion. Here, the trial court accomplished substantial justice by continuing the hearing because it ensured that a murderer would not benefit from Proposition 47. “By granting the continuances, the court acceded to voters’ wishes to make certain that a convicted murderer could not take advantage of section 1170.18.” The continuances were useful because they enabled the trial court to hear evidence related to whether Hatt had committed a disqualifying act, and the prosecution provided the court with a reasonable timeline for when the evidence could be obtained.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B283463.PDF