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Name: People v. Vandiver
Case #: E065899
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 03/30/2017

Receiving stolen property conviction properly reduced to misdemeanor under Proposition 47 where value of blank check is less than $950. In 2012, Vandiver pleaded guilty to felony receiving stolen property (Pen. Code, § 496, subd. (a)) based on her possession of blank checks she knew had been stolen. Vandiver petitioned the trial court to have her conviction redesignated a misdemeanor under Proposition 47, on the ground that the checks were worth less than $950. The trial court found the value of the checks to be de minimis and granted her petition. The People appealed. Held: Affirmed. Proposition 47 reduced the offense of receiving stolen property (Pen. Code, § 496, subd. (a)) to a misdemeanor if the value of the property does not exceed $950. For purposes of theft statutes, the value of stolen property is determined using the fair market value test. On appeal, the People argued that the fair market value of a blank check is the value of the bank account the check provides access to—in this case, $3,000. The court disagreed, observing that the fair market value is not the value to any particular individual, such as the account holder, but the highest price a willing buyer and a willing seller will arrive at. Here, there was no evidence that the victim would have been able to obtain $3,000 for a blank, unendorsed check from her account. Moreover, even if the value of a blank check equals the amount in the linked account, the trial court did not err in concluding the checks Vandiver possessed had a de minimis value because the victim’s account had been closed at the time Vandiver was found in possession of the checks. To the extent the People argued that the court should consider the black market value of the stolen blank checks, the court concluded this argument was forfeited. Although evidence related to the possibility of illegal sales can help establish the fair market value (People v. Romanowski (2017) 2 Cal.5th 903), the People failed to object in the trial court on the basis that the checks had a black market value, despite the trial court’s invitation to do so.

The trial court did not err in reaching the merits of defendant’s Proposition 47 petition even though defendant did not attach evidence of the value of the stolen property to her petition. Vandiver’s Proposition 47 petition included a declaration that she “believe[d] the value of the check or property does not exceed $950.” The trial court set an evidentiary hearing and consulted its own records, which included the police report. Based on this information, the trial court granted the petition. On appeal, the People argued the trial court was required to summarily deny Vandiver’s request for Proposition 47 relief because she failed to attach any evidence to her petition. The Court of Appeal disagreed, concluding that “the trial court acted within its statutory discretion to consider evidence contained in court records and to set an evidentiary hearing to establish the facts underlying the conviction.” (See also Pen. Code, § 1170.18, subd. (b).) The California Supreme Court recently approved this approach in People v. Romanowski. The court confirmed that the ultimate burden of proving eligibility for Proposition 47 relief lies with the petitioner, but noted that in some cases the uncontested information in the petition and record of conviction may be enough for the petitioner to establish eligibility. Under Romanwoski, it would have been error for the trial court to dismiss the petition after holding a hearing and reviewing the evidence that appeared to establish petitioner’s eligibility. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in reaching the merits of the petition.

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