Proposition 47: The clock is ticking to apply for relief

by Brittany Stonesifer

By now, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of Proposition 47 (Prop 47). With more than 3,200 people released from state prisons and 115,000 petitions filed under the law within the first six months of its passage, Prop 47 is likely the most significant reform to California criminal justice policy since 2011’s Realignment.

Monopoly-Get-out-of-jail-free-card-300x225, Proposition 47: The clock is ticking to apply for relief, Abolition Now!
Oldtimers who played Monopoly as kids will remember fondly the “Get out of jail free” card.

Like Realignment, Prop 47 is far from perfect and, as highlighted by Legal Services for Prisoners with Children’s Dorsey Nunn in an article last November, it does not challenge the dominant narrative about incarceration because it explicitly excludes certain people from relief. Prop 47 does, however, demonstrate that California is ready to push back against excessively harsh sentences and provides the opportunity for tens of thousands of people to reduce their criminal records and, in some cases, secure early release from prison or jail.

Since Prop 47 passed last November, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children has been heavily engaged in public education and community outreach in an attempt to maximize the number of people who will receive relief under the law. It is critical that individuals with eligible criminal convictions act quickly because the law created only a three-year application window.

Petitions for Prop 47 relief must be filed by Nov. 5, 2017.

So what exactly does Prop 47 do and who is eligible? Prop 47 converts specified drug possession and theft crimes from felonies or “wobblers” to straight misdemeanors. The bad news is that the law is more narrow than many people believe because it only applies to a set list of California convictions; it does not cover all drug or theft felonies and it does not cover out of state convictions.

The good news, however, is that the law is retroactive and eligible people can apply for relief either while they are serving their sentences or after the sentence has been completed, even if it was completed many years ago.

Eligible crimes

The following is the complete list of crimes that are eligible to be reduced to misdemeanors under Prop 47:

Theft crimes:

  1. Any type of property theft – including shoplifting by entering a business during regular business hours with intent to commit theft – if the value of the property is $950 or less. (California Penal Code Sections 490.2 and 459.5.)
  2. Receiving stolen property, if the value of the property is $950 or less. (California Penal Code Section 496(a).)
  3. Forgery of a check, money order etc. for $950 or less, unless the person is also convicted of identity theft under Penal Code section 530.5. (California Penal Code Section 473(b).)
  4. Passing bad check(s) for $950 or less, unless the person has three or more prior convictions for Penal Code sections 470, 473, 475 or 476. (California Penal Code Section 476a(b).)
  5. Petty theft with a prior, unless the person has a prior conviction for a theft offense or elder abuse, served a term for the prior, and is required to register as a sex offender; then it is a wobbler. (California Penal Code Section 666.)

Drug possession crimes – not with intent to sell:

  1. Possession of various controlled substances, including cocaine and heroin. (California Health and Safety Code Section 11350.)
  2. Possession of concentrated cannabis. (California Health and Safety Code Section 11357(a).)
  3. Possession of methamphetamine. (California Health and Safety Code Section 11377.)

Though the crimes listed above will now usually be punishable only as misdemeanors, the following people with “disqualifying priors” are, unfortunately, excluded from relief under Prop 47:

  1. Those with any prior convictions for “serious or violent” offenses under Penal Code section 667(e)(2)(C)(iv), or
  2. Those with any prior convictions which require sex offender registration under Penal Code section 290(c). This includes many, but not all, sex offense convictions.

If you have a conviction for one or more of the above listed eligible crimes and do not have any convictions for the disqualifying priors, it is important to keep a few considerations in mind before applying for relief. For those who are currently serving their sentences, reducing a Prop 47 felony to a misdemeanor will likely mean a shorter sentence and possibly immediate release.

Reducing a conviction to a misdemeanor under Prop 47 does not restore gun rights, however, so if this is important to an applicant, he or she should speak with an attorney about other options before filing. Similarly, reducing a conviction to a misdemeanor using Prop 47 may remove deportability for immigrant applicants, but they are still strongly advised to speak with an immigration attorney before submitting a Prop 47 application.

Individuals who are interested in learning more about Prop 47 – including how and where to file an application, where to get legal help with an application and how Prop 47 works with other record-reduction options – are encouraged to contact Legal Services for Prisoners with Children as soon as possible at 1540 Market St., Suite 490, San Francisco, CA 94102. You can also see our manual, “Using Proposition 47 to Reduce Convictions and Restore Rights,” online at

Brittany Stonesifer is a staff attorney with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, an organization that has worked for over 35 years to restore the civil and human rights of communities impacted by mass incarceration. She can be reached at 1540 Market St., Suite 490, San Francisco CA 94102, or 415-255-7036, ext. 306.