A California reform measure that limits probation to two years for many nonviolent offenders applies retroactively to plea deals that were not finalized when the law went into effect in 2021, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday.
If such deals contain longer probation than allowed under the new law, the state must shorten those terms accordingly while leaving the rest of the deals intact, the state’s Supreme Court ruled.
How many defendants could qualify for reduced probation as a result of the ruling was not immediately clear, though the court noted that there are a large number of pending plea deals in the state.
- Advertisement -
The defendant whose case was in court, Ricky Prudholme, pleaded guilty and agreed to serve one year in prison and three years of probation for a second-degree burglary in San Bernardino County in 2018. He later filed an appeal. The deal was pending when the state passed Assembly Bill 1950 in 2020.
The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously agreed with Prudholme’s claim that his probation should have been reduced to two years as a result of the new law, while leaving the rest of his deal intact. In doing so, it reversed part of a lower court ruling that would have referred Prudholme’s case back to the trial court so that the state could reconsider the deal and decide whether to back out of it.
California Atty. General Rob Bonta’s office, which supported the referral of Prudholme’s case back to court, said it was reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision but declined to comment further. Prudholme’s lawyer also declined to comment.
U.S. Representative Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles), who sponsored AB 1950 when she was a member of the California Assembly, said she was pleased with the court’s decision, which she says will have “a huge impact” and will help to address inequalities in the criminal justice system.
“We know that black and brown people are disproportionately affected by harsh punishments, including long probation periods that create barriers to reentry into our society,” she said in a statement to The Times.
- Advertisement -
Associate Justice Carol Corrigan, who drafted the Supreme Court decision, wrote that shortening Prudholme’s probation would not fundamentally change the state’s deal with him to warrant giving the state the opportunity to back out of the deal entirely .
She wrote that when the legislature passed AB 1950, shorter probation periods were preferable in such cases and that the intent of the legislation “would be thwarted” if the dissenting plaintiffs simply violated the terms of the plea deals involved. may reconsider or withdraw.
That was especially true, Corrigan wrote, given that the “only recourse” of prosecutors dissatisfied with the reform measure’s reduced probation would be to face more serious charges and jail time instead.
- Advertisement -
Offenders may be sentenced to probation in lieu of or in addition to jail or jail time. Probation terms vary, but may require released offenders to report regularly to a probation officer, submit to drug testing and counseling, complete community service, and stay out of trouble. Offenders can be sent back to prison for violating probation.
AB 1950 limited probation for many misdemeanors to one year and for many nonviolent crimes to two years. Those limits do not apply to violent crimes such as robbery, rape or murder, to crimes for which specific probation periods are already set out in the law, or to certain theft or financial crimes.
The bill was championed by criminal justice reform advocates, who cited evidence that the greatest benefits of probation come early after an offender’s release. Critics, including probation officers in the state, opposed the bill because it was unclear and would limit the benefits of probation, both for offenders and the state.
Corrigan himself noted a lack of clarity in the law, writing that lawmakers had not indicated whether they intended to apply the law retroactively – leaving the “difficult, divisive and time-consuming” process of deciding on that to the legislature. courts was left.
She urged lawmakers to “regularly express their intent” on whether laws should be retroactive in the future.