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Name: People v. Prudholme (2023) 14 Cal.5th 961
Case #: S271057
Court: CA Supreme Court
Opinion Date: 06/26/2023

Opinion by: Justice Corrigan (unanimous decision)

Assembly Bill No. 1950 applies retroactively to all nonfinal cases. In 2018, defendant was charged with second degree robbery and faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Pursuant to a negotiated disposition, defendant pleaded to second degree burglary in exchange for dismissal of the robbery count and imposition of a three-year probationary term. While the appeal was pending, AB 1950 reduced the maximum length of probation for most felonies to two years, effective 1/1/21. The Court of Appeal concluded the probation limit applied to defendant retroactively but that People v. Stamps (2020) 9 Cal.5th 685 required the case be remanded to the trial court to “permit the People and trial court an opportunity to withdraw from the plea agreement.” Held: Judgment modified, otherwise affirmed. While placing a defendant on probation itself is deemed an act of clemency, the court may impose various conditions on the probationary grant. These include the imposition of a jail term, the suspension of a further jail or prison sentence, and the payment of a fine or victim restitution. The court may also require the probationer to submit to a search of his home, car, person, electronic devices and social media accounts, and restrict where the defendant can go, with whom he can associate, where he lives and whether he can move or leave the county. Although probation is not considered a traditional form of punishment, in light of these restrictions on personal liberty contemplated by the imposition of probation, the court concluded the rationale of Estrada applies equally here. By limiting the maximum duration a probationer can be subject to such restraint, AB 1950 has a direct and significant ameliorative benefit for at least some probationers, who otherwise would be subject to additional months or years of potentially onerous probation conditions. Because defendant’s case is not final, AB 1950 applies retroactively to him.

The proper remedy for applying AB 1950 to an existing plea agreement that provided for a longer probationary term is to modify the probationary term to conform with the new law while maintaining the remainder of the plea agreement. The court concluded that AB 1950 is ambiguous with respect to whether it applies to plea agreements, making it unclear whether Penal Code section 1192.5 (prohibiting a court from violating plea bargain terms) or the Stamps remand procedure (allowing for a limited remand and potential withdrawal of the plea) applies.  In light of the ambiguity, the court considered the legislative history of AB 1950 and determined that the purpose of AB 1950 was to reduce the length of probation across the board in order to increase probationary effectiveness and reduce the likelihood of incarceration for minor probation violations. These goals would seem to apply to all probationary terms regardless of whether they are imposed following conviction at trial, an open plea, or a plea agreement. Such goals would be thwarted if the prosecution could routinely withdraw from plea agreements where it deemed the probationary length insufficient. Under these circumstances, neither the mandates of section 1192.5 nor the Stamps remand procedure should apply. Because the Legislature intended AB 1950 to apply to existing, nonfinal plea agreements while otherwise maintaining the remainder of the bargain, the court modified defendant’s judgment to reflect the new probationary term of two years. [Editor’s Note: The court disapproved People v. Scarano (2022) 74 Cal.App.5th 993, 1011 to the extent it reached a contrary conclusion.]