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This July, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal held that a San Diego youth was eligible for reclassification of his sentence, from a felony to misdemeanor, under California’s Proposition 47.The judgment could serve as a precedent for other jurisdictions and result in greater uniformity in how counties apply Proposition 47 for justice-involved youth. Given the significant collateral consequences of a felony conviction, the court’s decision represents a positive step forward in providing justice-involved youth a second chance at success.

In November 2014, Proposition 47 passed with nearly 60 percent of the votes cast and since that time it has significantly changed the landscape of our state justice system. The initiative reclassified certain low-level offenses from felonies to misdemeanors and allowed persons with prior convictions the opportunity to retroactively change their records. Eligible offenses include drug possession and other specified non-serious non-violent felonies. Moreover, the new misdemeanor re-designation would also potentially impact the current sentencing of eligible persons.

Photo by Justin Brockie | flickr creative commons

Implementation of Proposition 47 has varied across California’s 58 counties, with some interpreting the initiative’s language as only applicable to adults with criminal convictions,” but not youth adjudicated” in the juvenile justice system for the same Proposition 47 offenses.

The Fourth District Court reviewed this issue through the case of a young person named Alejandro, who received a felony adjudication for commercial burglary when he was 15. With the passage of Proposition 47, Alejandro petitioned to have this felony adjudication changed to a misdemeanor sentence, thus reducing his maximum term of confinement, and removing his DNA from a statewide database.

The San Diego Superior Court recognized Alejandro’s offense was now eligible for a sentence reduction, but refused to reclassify the offense as a misdemeanor, given that the applicable Proposition 47 statute uses the word conviction, rather than adjudication. Alejandro appealed this decision, and the Fourth District Court subsequently reversed the lower court’s decision and extended the reclassification opportunity to youth.

The appellate court concluded that the state’s juvenile courts have jurisdiction when youth commit a criminal offense, thus reclassification for adult offenses should also apply to juvenile adjudications. As a result, Alejandro’s felony has been reclassified as a misdemeanor and the court ordered that his DNA information be expunged from the state’s directory, unless there is compelling reason to retain it beyond the current sentence.

The court’s decision is a positive step forward, one that will hopefully be recognized by those jurisdictions that have not yet extended Proposition 47 reclassifications to juveniles. The implementation of Proposition 47 has already resulted in a drop in the state prison population and some jail populations. Moreover, California will subsequently allocate generated state cost savings through grants for programs to address recidivism, truancy, and victim’s services.

California’s juvenile justice system could significantly benefit from greater Prop 47 implementation by reducing the need for secure facilities, while strengthening community-based support networks. Youth adjudicated for Proposition 47 offenses will be eligible to seal their records, thus mitigating collateral consequences and discrimination as they relate to education, employment, and housing.

While the sentencing reform is permanent, individuals must submit their record reclassification petitions by November 5, 2017. To learn more about reclassification or resentencing changes under Proposition 47, visit myprop47​.org.