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Probation–Finality of Judgment for Purposes of Applying Change in Law

Case Name: People v. McKenzie (2020) 9 Cal.5th 40
Case #: S251333
Last Updated: February 27, 2020

When is the judgment in a criminal case final for purposes of applying a later change in the law if the defendant was granted probation and imposition of sentence was suspended?

Held: An ameliorative statute applies to all nonfinal cases, including those in which a defendant is placed on probation, with imposition of sentence suspended, and where no appeal is filed until after probation is revoked and sentence imposed. In 2014, defendant was convicted of drug crimes. Imposition of sentence was suspended and he was placed on probation. When his probation was revoked in 2016, his sentence included prior drug conviction enhancements (former Health & Saf. Code, § 11370.2). He appealed. The opinion in his case was filed in September 2017. Senate Bill No. 180, which eliminated the drug prior enhancement, was signed in October 2017 and became effective January 1, 2018. In December 2017, the California Supreme Court granted review and remanded the case to the Court of Appeal to consider the effect of SB 180. The Court of Appeal ordered the enhancements stricken. The Supreme Court granted the prosecution’s petition for review. Held: Affirmed. Under the retroactivity principles announced in In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal.2d 740, ameliorative statutory changes that reduce or eliminate punishment, and which become effective prior to the time a conviction becomes final, apply retroactively. An order granting probation is deemed a final judgment for the limited purpose of filing an appeal therefrom (Pen. Code, § 1237, subd. (a)), but does not have the effect of a judgment for other purposes. Here, imposition of sentence was suspended when probation was granted. When probation was revoked and a sentence imposed, the defendant timely appealed. Thus, his judgment was not final when SB 180 went into effect and he is entitled to its ameliorative provisions. The court disagreed with the Attorney General’s policy arguments against the application of the Estrada rule in this context. This case was decided on 2/27/2020.

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