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Name: People v. Valenzuela
Case #: D066907
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 02/03/2016
Subsequent History: Review granted 3/30/2016: S232900

In enacting Proposition 47, the voters expressly intended that qualified defendants file a petition or application in the superior court to reduce certain felonies to misdemeanors; the Court of Appeal is not permitted to reduce a conviction. A jury convicted Valenzuela of three felonies: carjacking, reckless evasion, and possession of methamphetamine. After she filed her notice of appeal, Proposition 47 passed. Among other things, Proposition 47 reduced certain drug and theft offenses to misdemeanors unless the defendant has specified disqualifying offenses. It also sets forth a mechanism for individuals to petition to have felony convictions for those offenses reduced to misdemeanors. On appeal, Valenzuela argued, inter alia, that her felony conviction for possession of methamphetamine should be reduced to a misdemeanor pursuant to In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal.3d 740. Held: Affirmed. Estrada recognized an exception to the general rule that Penal Code statutes, like Proposition 47, apply prospectively only: a legislative amendment that lessens criminal punishment is presumed to apply to all cases not yet final unless there is a saving clause providing for prospective application. The fact that Proposition 47 specifically requires all defendants who have been sentenced, including those whose judgments are not yet final, to file a petition in the sentencing court (see Pen. Code, § 1170.18), shows “a clear intent not to permit the automatic application of Proposition 47 to anyone currently serving a sentence for a listed offense.” Other courts have reached a similar conclusion. (See People v. Shabazz (2015) 237 Cal.App.4th 303; People v. Noyan (2014) 232 Cal.App.4th 657.).) Valenzuela must file a petition in the trial court to reduce her felony methamphetamine possession conviction to a misdemeanor.

One-year prison prior enhancement (Pen. Code, § 667.5, subd. (b)) should not be stricken if the defendant’s felony was reduced to a misdemeanor under Proposition 47 after the enhancement was imposed. Valenzuela’s sentence was enhanced by one year pursuant to section 667.5, subdivision (b) for a 2012 felony conviction and prison term for receiving stolen property. After Proposition 47 passed, she filed a petition to reduce the receiving stolen property conviction to a misdemeanor. The superior court granted her petition and reduced the conviction to a misdemeanor “for all purposes.” (See Pen. Code, § 1170.18, subd. (k).) Relying on People v. Park (2013) 56 Cal.4th 782, 796, and People v. Flores (1979) 92 Cal.App.3d 461, Valenzuela argued that the Court of Appeal should strike the prison prior. The Court of Appeal disagreed. Neither Park nor Flores provides authority for a court to reach back and strike a prison prior enhancement where the prior offense is reduced to a misdemeanor after the defendant has been convicted of and sentenced for a later offense. Rather, these cases hold that a sentence enhancement under section 667.5 is not available when the prior conviction that forms the basis for the enhancement is reduced before the defendant committed and was convicted of the new offense. “Additionally, having served a prior prison term for a felony conviction is the qualifying criterion for the enhancement that Valenzuela received under section 667.5, subdivision (b)” and Proposition 47 does not change this fact. The Court of Appeal also rejected Valenzuela’s equal protection argument.

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