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Name: People v. Lowery
Case #: H042551
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 6 DCA
Opinion Date: 02/10/2017
Summary

The dollar amount written on a check is not necessarily the “value” of the instrument for Proposition 47 purposes. In 2009, Lowery tried to cash a stolen, forged check in the amount of $1,047.85. The cashier determined the check was forged and refused to cash it. Lowery pleaded guilty to possession of a fictitious check (Pen. Code, § 476). In 2015 he petitioned to reduce the felony to a misdemeanor pursuant to Proposition 47. The trial court denied the petition because the amount for which the check was written exceeded $950. Lowery appealed. Held: Reversed. Proposition 47 established a procedure whereby qualified defendants who have completed their sentences may petition to have certain felony convictions designated misdemeanors (Pen. Code, § 1170.18, subd. (f)). It also amended Penal Code section 473 to reduce certain forgery offenses to misdemeanors where the value of the enumerated instrument does not exceed $950 (Pen. Code, § 473, subd. (b)). While a forged check may have a monetary value equal to its written amount, this is not necessarily true. For instance, a very poorly forged check for a million dollars would not likely be negotiable and therefore is not worth its written amount. On the other hand, an expertly forged $1,000 check might be. In addition, a defendant might wish to present expert evidence that a forged check is worth less than its written value based on a discounted price paid on the street. Thus, “value” as used in Penal Code section 473 means the actual monetary worth of the check, not the amount for which it was written. This interpretation comports with Proposition 47’s use of the term “value” in other contexts (see, e.g., §§ 459.5 [defining “shoplifting”], 490.2, subd. (a) [defining petty theft], 496, subds. (a) & (b) [defining receipt of stolen property]), and the intent of the voters to treat less serious theft offenses as misdemeanors.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/H042551M.PDF