California Prop 47 Without “Legalese”

California Attorney Paul Geller Explains Proposition 47 without “Legalese”

Vital Information You Absolutely Should Know After an Arrest

Have you recently been arrested in the state of California? It is crucial that you and your attorney are aware of the changes to the level of charges that you can face through the recent passing of Proposition 47. If you are currently serving a sentence from a felony conviction, Proposition 47 also allows for the potential for resentencing.


The following is how Proposition 47 or Prop 47 can impact a criminal charge you are facing or have been convicted for:

  • Prop 47 will require the defendant face a misdemeanor sentence instead of felony for certain drug possession offenses and for crimes of petty theft, receiving stolen property and forging/writing bad checks when the amount involved is $950 or less.
  • However, Prop 47 allows felony sentences for these offenses if person has previous conviction for crimes such as rape, murder or child molestation or if the defendant is a registered sex offender.
  • For people currently serving a prison or jail sentence, Prop 47 requires for felony offenders, unless the court finds the person may be deemed as an unreasonable public safety risk.

Depending on your prior criminal history, Proposition 47, or Prop 47 can dramatically impact the sentence you could receive if convicted. Now more than ever, it is imperative you consult with an experience criminal defense attorney to learn about your options.

If You Have Just Been Arrested or Are Serving a Prison or County Jail Sentence, This Is What You Need to Know about Proposition 47

What level of charge are you facing after your arrest and how may Prop 47 influence the potential punishment you can face? Under U.S. law, there are three classifications of crimes: felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions. A felony is considered the most serious type of crime. U. S. existing law classifies some felonies as “violent” or “serious,” or both.

Examples of felony-level crime currently defined as both violent and serious include murder, robbery, and rape. Those felonies that are not classified as violent or serious include grand theft (not involving the use of a firearm) and possession of illegal drugs.

Are you facing a misdemeanor charge? A misdemeanor is considered a less serious crime. Crimes where you can face a misdemeanor-level charge include assault and public drunkenness. Lower-level offenses are classified as infractions. An infraction is considered the least serious crime and is typically punished only with a fine. An example of an infraction would be possession of less than one ounce of marijuana for personal use.

Less widely known is that under current law, certain crimes—such as check forgery and being found in possession of stolen property—can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. These crimes are known as “wobblers.” Based on the circumstances of the crime and the previous criminal history of the defendant, the court has the discretion to decide at what level to charge a wobbler crime.

Each of these crime classifications are subject to their own penalty range. For example, conviction of a serious felony can be subject to incarceration in prison and a period of supervised probation by either the state or county. Offenders that do not have a prior criminal history may serve a county jail sentence as opposed to a sentence in a state penitentiary. Regardless of where an incarceration sentence is served—a felony conviction remains on a person’s criminal record for life and this record can be viewed by potential employers. Misdemeanor convictions have penalties that include a maximum of one year sentence in a county jail, probation, fines or a combination of all three penalty options.

The goal of Proposition 47 is to reduce penalties for certain offenders convicted of non-serious and non-violent property and drug crimes. The measure also allows certain offenders who have been previously convicted of such crimes and may currently be serving incarceration sentences or under probation to apply for reduced sentences.

Here is the biggest question—why would the state of California consider this legislation? It isn’t due to a sudden spirit of clemency but more to a practical reason—saving money. California has an estimated rate of 220,000 felony convictions per year and 40,000 misdemeanor/infraction convictions for the offenses covered under the Proposition 47 measure.

The state will need to devote less of its resources if less people are incarcerated and/or under state and county probation supervision. Because of this, Prop 47 stipulates that any state savings that result from the measure is to be spent to support school truancy prevention, helping to keep more of the youth population in school, supporting mental health and substance abuse treatment services and victim services.

It is easy for any person to become “lost” in our notoriously slow-moving and incredibly complex criminal justice system. If you are among the approximately quarter of a million California residents facing a felony or misdemeanor charge—you need to speak with an attorney that has thoroughly examined the measures of Prop 47 and can assess how the legislation impacts you and how you should build your defense.

Proposition 47 Q&A with Attorney Paul Geller

Proposition 47 is legislation that impacts the level of charge a person can face for certain crimes in the state of California. Depending on the circumstances of the crime and the person’s previous criminal history, Proposition 47 could potentially lower the level of the offense a person will be charged with.

For example, a theft charge where the value of the item stolen was, say, $900, could have previously been charged as grand theft, a felony-level offense. Under Proposition 47, the charge would now be a misdemeanor-level offense. Misdemeanor offenses carry the potential penalty range of a maximum of one year in a county jail, as opposed to felony convictions, the majority of which are served in a state penitentiary.

Essentially, Proposition 47 restructures the severity of how an offense would be classified. Under California law, you would face 3 different types of charges after an arrest. They are a felony charge, a misdemeanor charge or an infraction. In some cases where you would have been previously charged with a felony-level offense, you might now face a misdemeanor if the crime was non-violent in nature.

A misdemeanor is considered a less serious level of crime and therefore, subject to less serious punishments. Drug possession charges, which have the potential to be charged as felonies or misdemeanors would now only be charged as misdemeanors. A drug possession charge under the lower infraction level would not be subject to the higher misdemeanor level.

Proposition 47 will also impact the level of charges for theft crimes, such as shoplifting, the crime of receiving stolen property and bad check writing. Influencing factors on how Proposition 47 can affect charge levels include the person’s previous criminal history and in the case of theft-related charges, the value of the stolen property.

Proposition 47 can potentially decrease the amount of time you spend incarcerated and/or reduce a period of supervised probation that accompanies felony and misdemeanor convictions. If you could spend less time in jail or avoid jail altogether, wouldn’t you want to know how?

If you are facing a criminal charge in the state of California, it is imperative you consult an experienced criminal defense attorney that has thoroughly examined the impacts of Prop 47—and who can clearly explain how you could possibly benefit from this legislation. Proposition 47 also permits restructuring of sentences already imposed for previous convictions of certain offenses. If you are serving a sentence in county jail or a state prison or are trying to return to a normal life following being incarcerated but are struggling under restrictive probation conditions—it is vital that you call an attorney today.

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