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Name: People v. Varner
Case #: E063389
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 09/15/2016

A conviction for receiving a stolen vehicle (Pen. Code, § 496d, subd. (a)) is not eligible for Proposition 47 resentencing. In July 2014, Varner pleaded guilty to felony receiving a stolen vehicle (Pen. Code, § 496d, subd. (a)) and admitted a prior prison term enhancement (Pen. Code, § 667.5, subd. (b)). In March 2015, he filed a petition to reduce his offense to a misdemeanor under Proposition 47 (Pen. Code, § 1170.18). The court denied the petition and Varner appealed. Held: Affirmed. In November 2014, Proposition 47 passed. It reduced the penalty for certain theft and drug offenses unless the defendant has a disqualifying prior and provided a procedure whereby defendants may petition to have a felony offense designated a misdemeanor (Pen. Code, § 1170.18, sub. (a)). Proposition 47 converted the offense of receiving stolen property (Pen. Code, § 496, subd. (a)) to a misdemeanor where the value of the property does not exceed $950, but did not similarly amend section 496d, receiving a stolen vehicle. It also added Penal Code section 490.2, which provides a definition of petty theft that affects the definition of grand theft in section 487 and other provisions. Section 490.2, states that notwithstanding section 487 or other statutory provisions defining grand theft, theft is a misdemeanor if the value of the property taken does not exceed $950. But if section 490.2 also applied to stolen property offenses, there would have been no need to amend section 496 (receiving stolen property).

Exclusion of the offense of buying or receiving a stolen vehicle from the resentencing provisions of Proposition 47 does not deny equal protection of the law. Varner claimed the exclusion of a section 496d offense from the coverage of Proposition 47 violated equal protection because, after Proposition 47, a defendant charged under section 496 for receiving a stolen vehicle worth less than $950 can obtain relief, but a defendant charged under section 496d cannot. However, a defendant challenging a statute on equal protection grounds must show “that the state has adopted a classification that affects two or more similarly situated groups in an unequal manner.” Even if a law does affect similarly situated groups differently, unless the law involves a suspect classification or impinges upon a fundamental interest, the classification will be upheld unless it bears no relationship to a legitimate state purpose. A defendant does not have a fundamental interest in a specific term of imprisonment or in the designation a particular crime receives. The disparity Varner challenges does not violate equal protection. [Editor’s Note: The California Supreme Court has granted review of cases that present these issues. (See People v. Nichols (2016) 244 Cal.App.4th 681, review granted 4/20/2016 (S233055); People v. Peacock (2015) 242 Cal.App.4th 708, review granted 2/17/2016 (S230948); and People v. Garness (2015) 241 Cal.App.4th 1370, review granted 1/27/2016 (S231031).)]

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