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Name: People v. Williams
Case #: B264110
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 03/03/2016
Subsequent History: Review granted 5/11/2016: S233539

One-year prior prison term enhancement (Pen. Code, § 667.5, subd. (b)) should not be stricken despite fact the underlying felony was later reduced to a misdemeanor pursuant to Proposition 47. In 2013, Williams pleaded guilty to grand theft (greater than $950) and admitted a prior strike and two prior prison terms: one for burglary and another for petty theft with a prior. After Proposition 47 passed, the court granted Williams’s petition to reduce his petty theft with a prior conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor. Thereafter, Williams filed a motion for resentencing in the grand theft case arguing that the one-year prior prison term enhancement for her petty theft with a prior conviction should be stricken. The court denied her motion. She appealed. Held: Affirmed. Proposition 47 provides two mechanisms for retroactive relief: one providing recall and resentencing for individuals who are currently serving a felony sentence for an offense that is now a misdemeanor under Proposition 47, and another providing “redesignation” of a felony to a misdemeanor for individuals who have completed their sentence. Proposition 47, however, does not contain a procedure for striking a prior prison term enhancement if the felony underlying the enhancement has subsequently been reduced to a misdemeanor. Proposition 47 expressly provides that the two mechanisms are meant to be exhaustive and not illustrative: “Nothing in this and related sections is intended to diminish or abrogate the finality of judgments in any case not falling within the purview of this act.” (Pen. Code, § 1170.18, subd. (n).) The trial court properly denied Williams’ motion for resentencing.

The “misdemeanor for all purposes” language in Proposition 47 should be interpreted the same way as the “misdemeanor for all purposes” language in Penal Code section 17, subdivision (b)—prospectively, not retroactively. Although Proposition 47 states that a felony reduced to a misdemeanor shall be a “misdemeanor for all purposes,” this does not grant an offense’s redesignation as a misdemeanor retroactive effect. The same language is used in section 17, subdivision (b) in discussing the effect of a judicial declaration that a wobbler offense is to be considered a misdemeanor. Courts have interpreted section 17’s language as making the offense a misdemeanor from that point forward, but not retroactively. Because “identical language appearing in separate statutory provisions should receive the same interpretation when the statutes cover the same or analogous subject matter” (People v. Cornett (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1261, 1269, fn. 6), and because Proposition 47 and section 17 both address the effect to be given the redesignation of a felony as a misdemeanor, a court is obligated to construe the “for all purposes” language in Proposition 47 to have the same meaning as the same language in section 17. The court rejected Williams’s argument that the discretionary nature of relief under section 17 distinguishes it from Proposition 47. The court also rejected Williams’s arguments that such a construction would thwart the voters’ intent and would be inconsistent with the exception to non-retroactivity set forth in In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal.2d 740.

There is no equal protection violation in refusing to give retroactive effect to the reduction of a felony to a misdemeanor. Williams argued that refusing to give a Proposition 47 redesignation retroactive effect sets up two classes of defendants and treats them differently: (1) those sentenced now, who are able to avoid enhancements based on prior felony or wobbler convictions (because the redesignations they obtain on those prior convictions apply prospectively); and (2) those sentenced in the past, who are unable to avoid enhancements based on prior felony convictions (because the redesignations they obtain on those prior convictions do not apply retroactively). While this is true, “it is well settled that a reduction of sentences only prospectively from the date a new sentencing statute takes effect is not a denial of equal protection.” (People v. Floyd (2003) 31 Cal.4th 179, 188-189.)

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