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Retroactivity of AB 1950 and Remand Procedure

Case Name: People v. Prudholme (2023) 14 Cal.5th 961
Case #: S271057
Last Updated: June 26, 2023

Review was originally granted with briefing deferred pending decision in People v. Hernandez (2020) 55 Cal.App.5th 942, review granted 1/27/2021 and case transferred to Court of Appeal on 12/22/2021 (S265739/F080131), which presented the following issues: (1) If a defendant’s prior prison term enhancements are stricken under Senate Bill No. 136, does the remainder of the sentence agreed to under a plea agreement remain intact or must the case be remanded to allow the People to withdraw from the plea agreement and to obtain the trial court’s approval (see People v. Stamps (2020) 9 Cal.5th 685)? (2) If the plea agreement is rescinded in light of Senate Bill No. 136, can the defendant be sentenced to a term longer than provided for in the original agreement?

On 12/22/2021, the court ordered supplemental briefing in People v. Prudholme and directed the parties to brief the following issues: (1) Does Assembly Bill No. 1950 (Stats. 2020, ch. 328) apply retroactively under In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal.2d 740? (2) If so, does the remand procedure of People v. Stamps (2020) 9 Cal.5th 685 apply?

Assembly Bill No. 1950 applies retroactively to all nonfinal cases. In 2018, defendant was charged with second degree robbery and faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Pursuant to a negotiated disposition, defendant pleaded to second degree burglary in exchange for dismissal of the robbery count and imposition of a three-year probationary term. While the appeal was pending, AB 1950 reduced the maximum length of probation for most felonies to two years, effective 1/1/21. The Court of Appeal concluded the probation limit applied to defendant retroactively but that People v. Stamps (2020) 9 Cal.5th 685 required the case be remanded to the trial court to “permit the People and trial court an opportunity to withdraw from the plea agreement.” Held: Judgment modified, otherwise affirmed. While placing a defendant on probation itself is deemed an act of clemency, the court may impose various conditions on the probationary grant. These include the imposition of a jail term, the suspension of a further jail or prison sentence, and the payment of a fine or victim restitution. The court may also require the probationer to submit to a search of his home, car, person, electronic devices and social media accounts, and restrict where the defendant can go, with whom he can associate, where he lives and whether he can move or leave the county. Although probation is not considered a traditional form of punishment, in light of these restrictions on personal liberty contemplated by the imposition of probation, the court concluded the rationale of Estrada applies equally here. By limiting the maximum duration a probationer can be subject to such restraint, AB 1950 has a direct and significant ameliorative benefit for at least some probationers, who otherwise would be subject to additional months or years of potentially onerous probation conditions. Because defendant’s case is not final, AB 1950 applies retroactively to him.

The proper remedy for applying AB 1950 to an existing plea agreement that provided for a longer probationary term is to modify the probationary term to conform with the new law while maintaining the remainder of the plea agreement. The court concluded that AB 1950 is ambiguous with respect to whether it applies to plea agreements, making it unclear whether Penal Code section 1192.5 (prohibiting a court from violating plea bargain terms) or the Stamps remand procedure (allowing for a limited remand and potential withdrawal of the plea) applies.  In light of the ambiguity, the court considered the legislative history of AB 1950 and determined that the purpose of AB 1950 was to reduce the length of probation across the board in order to increase probationary effectiveness and reduce the likelihood of incarceration for minor probation violations. These goals would seem to apply to all probationary terms regardless of whether they are imposed following conviction at trial, an open plea, or a plea agreement. Such goals would be thwarted if the prosecution could routinely withdraw from plea agreements where it deemed the probationary length insufficient. Under these circumstances, neither the mandates of section 1192.5 nor the Stamps remand procedure should apply. Because the Legislature intended AB 1950 to apply to existing, nonfinal plea agreements while otherwise maintaining the remainder of the bargain, the court modified defendant’s judgment to reflect the new probationary term of two years. [Editor’s Note: The court disapproved People v. Scarano (2022) 74 Cal.App.5th 993, 1011, to the extent it reached a contrary conclusion.]

This case was decided on 6/26/2023. Justice Corrigan authored the opinion of the court, in which Chief Justice Guerrero and Justices Liu, Kruger, Groban, Jenkins, and Evans concurred.

Review on this issue was also granted with briefing deferred in:

  • People v. Coffey (Oct. 7, 2021, F080792) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 1/5/2022 (S271719)
  • People v. Haney (Nov. 18, 2021, F081735) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 2/9/2022 (S272473)
  • People v. Emery (Jan. 19, 2022, C093813) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 3/30/2022 (S273293)
  • People v. Alonzo (July 23, 2021, F081532) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 10/13/2021 (S270190)
  • People v. Butler (2022) 75 Cal.App.5th 216, review granted 6/1/2022 (S273773/B313121)
  • People v. Scarano (2022) 74 Cal.App.5th 993, review granted 6/1/2022 (S273830/C092538)
  • People v. Flores (2022) 77 Cal.App.5th 420, review granted 6/22/2022 (S274561/F081903)
  • People v. Shelly (2022) 81 Cal.App.5th 181, review granted 9/21/2022 (S276031/C094048)
  • People v. Maetta (G059912) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 11/22/2022 (S276712)
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