When you are found guilty by a California court for a criminal offense, and the judge imposes probation, you can view it as a way of serving your criminal sentence without actual jail or prison time. However, the reality is that the burden associated with probation can be overwhelming for you. The court can impose a probation sentence longer than the jail sentence, resulting in unjust jail time for probation violators. When a breach of probation terms occurs, you end up in jail, increasing the number of probation violators in jail. Consequently, it increases the cost of housing inmates, burdening the government.
The California government enacted the Assembly Bill (AB) 1950 in January 2021 to reduce the number of inmates in jail for probation violations. The reforms cap or limit the duration probationers can serve, reducing the government's spending on managing and housing inmates. This blog discusses how the new bill reduces probation time.
Overview of California Probation
If the court finds you guilty of a crime, the possible consequences include jail or prison incarceration for the sentence provided by the law. Nevertheless, the court can sentence defendants to probation in place of the prison or jail term. Probation suspends or replaces the imposition of the jail sentence. It means that before the judge sentences you to probation, you must agree or abide by particular court requirements or conditions to avoid the execution of the initial sentence provided under the law.
California statutes provide two forms of probation based on the kind of criminal charges you face. The first one is informal or summary probation imposed on defendants who have been convicted of misdemeanor charges. Under this form of probation, no supervision is required. Therefore, when you face misdemeanor charges, you are likely to face summary or informal probation when convicted except in domestic violence (DV) incidents where the court will necessitate mandatory supervision.
On the other hand, formal probation is imposed on defendants found guilty of felony charges. Therefore, when the court finds you guilty of a felony, the possible sentence is formal probation with a supervision condition by a probation officer.
It is worth noting that the duration of probation depends on the type of charge that resulted in the conviction. Prior to the implementation of AB 1950, which will be discussed later, when convicted for a misdemeanor, the duration of probation often lasted up to three years. If it was a felony sentence, the judge would typically impose a probationary term ranging from three to five years. Sadly, the more prolonged the probationary term, the higher the chances of violating its requirements. The good news for California offenders and their attorneys, is that AB 1950 has brought about major changes in the probation scheme.
The probation requirements are determined by the judge presiding over your case and depend on the case’s nature. It means that a probation violation depends on the judge's terms. The standard probation requirements include:
Attending a batterer’s treatment program if you have been convicted of domestic violence
A prohibition from engaging in any breach of the law
Maintaining or finding a job
Checking in with your supervising or probation officer regularly
Installing an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) for DUI cases
Payment of court-imposed monetary fines
When you fail to pay these court fines, install IID, pay restitution, obey the law, and abide by all other requirements imposed by the judge, the judge may revoke or suspend the probation and execute the original sentence. Luckily, a breach of probation terms does not always result in revocation. The court can give you a second chance to redeem yourself, but the probationary term may be extended further, increasing the chances of another violation. This has led to an increased population of inmates who have violated probation terms ending up in prison and the cost of housing inmates for the government. From this information, you can grasp that the problem is not with the probation terms or requirements but the probationary duration. The more extended the probation duration, the higher the chances of a violation, sending probationers to jail or prison.
AB 1950 was passed by the California legislature to solve this probation problem for both the government and probationers by reducing the length of probation to ensure fair sentences for convicts and reduce congestion in jails and prisons.
Understanding California’s Assembly Bill 1950
AB 1950 went into effect on January 1, 2021 to reform the duration you must be on probation. Recall, probation is intended to reduce or remove the need for jail or prison sentence for charges that require mandatory probation. Its purpose is to prevent probationers from re-offending or engaging in new infringements of the law and keep them away from jail while at the same time reducing the financial and congestion burden on the jail system.
Sadly, probation lasts for several years, and because of the many violations that happen, the government has been unable to reduce the financial and physical strain in jails and prisons. In addition, probation has failed to attain its goal of rehabilitating probationers, with 2017 figures showing that one out of every three admissions in prison were probation violators.
A study by the Council of State Governments shows that a quarter of all inmates in prisons were due to probation revocation. Another report by the US Department of Justice shows that when probation exceeds two years, it fails to obtain its benefits because of the increased possibility of a breach of its terms, thus being ineffective and detrimental to both the state and probationers.
As a response, the legislature passed AB 1950, which provides a cap or limitation to the probation duration for most offenses With the new reforms in the probation bill, the probation term for many misdemeanors is capped at one year, while for most felony offenses the cap is at two years.
Violations Affected by AB 1950 Reforms
The probation reform bill has brought changes to many Penal Code and Health & Safety Code sections. The offenses affected by the bill are:
Assembly Bill 1950 changes PC 1203a to lower the probation duration for most misdemeanor offenses from three years to twelve months. The new PC 1203a now reads that courts within the state that have the authority to suspend imposition of sentence in misdemeanor charges. The courts now have the jurisdiction to suspend the imposition of the punishment and impose probation conditions not exceeding one year.
However, under subdivision b, the one-year probation term provided in the new reforms in section (a) will not relate to violations that include particular probationary terms within the law.
AB 1950 reforms reduced probationary terms for most felonies from a maximum of five years to twenty-four months. After the amendments, PC 1203.1a now reads that when a judge or court is granting a probation order, they can choose to suspend the imposition of the punishment provided in the law and order the revocation continues for no more than two years, abiding by the terms or requirements it shall establish. However, when a probationer violates these terms, the judge or court that granted probation and imposed conditions can suspend the probation and send the defendant to jail or prison for a duration no more than what the law provides for the offense.
AB 1950 Exemptions
There are numerous exceptions or exemptions where AB 1950 reforms do not apply. These are:
Violent and serious felony offenses, especially those under the Three Strikes law — So, when you are sentenced for a felony under this category like first-degree burglary, robbery, or a threat-related charge, probation execution will continue for a duration no more than the maximum sentence provided for the crime under the law. Additionally, when you have been charged and convicted for a theft offense and the stolen item’s value exceeds $25,000, you will be subject to a probationary term of three years notwithstanding the two-year cap provided in the new reforms for a felony or formal probation. Also, felony offenses with specific probationary terms in their provisions will continue to apply despite the new reforms capping probation to twenty-four months. Such offenses include DUIs, domestic violence charges, and assaults.
Misdemeanor violations under PC 1203a (b) read that the twelve-month probationary terms will not apply to offenses with specific probation periods in their provisions.
Common criminal violations that the new probation reforms bill has not impact are:
Murder or homicide under PC 187
Attempted homicide or murder under PC 664/187
Carjacking under PC 215
Robbery under PC 211
Rape as per PC 261
Corporal Injury to a spouse as per PC 273.5
Restrictive order violation as per PC 273.6
Stalking under PC 646.9
Mayhem as per PC 203
Assault with a deadly weapon as per PC 245
Residential burglary under PC 459
Criminal threats under PC 422
Kidnapping under PC 207
Statutory rape under PC 261.5
Nonetheless, even with these exemptions, the new reforms provided by AB 1950 will provide manifold benefits to felony and misdemeanor probationers.
Driving Under the Influence and DV Exemptions
As seen from the above information, if the sentence for a misdemeanor or felony offense has a specific probationary term under its provisions, the term overrides the new changes brought about by AB 1950. It means that when convicted of any of these offenses, even under the new law, the limitation on probation duration will not apply in your case. Instead, the court will impose the probation duration as provided in the law without regard to AB 1950 reforms.
Offenses with a specific probationary term are DUI and DV. These offenses are wobblers meaning they could be charged as felonies or misdemeanors depending on the prosecutor’s charging decision. Again, each violation contains a mandatory probationary term of three to five years. It appears that that legislators did not intend to reduce probation on people who commit such offenses because of their seriousness.
The AB 1950 language is unclear because, with each exemption, queries arise. For example, what rules apply if you receive a reduction for a crime that normally require a specified probation term. A prime example is when a DUI charge is reduced to an alcohol related reckless driving. Another example is if an assault with a deadly weapon is reduced to a charge of misdemeanor battery, PC 242. It appears that the lower probation term of AB 1950 will apply, but the evidence is inconclusive at this time. Such an issue will be straightened out as more cases arise.
Similarly, another query that arises from AB 1950 exceptions is whether the DA will only agree to a count reduction when an offender agrees to a prolonged probationary term. It is unclear whether the judge’s decisions will be directed by the DA’s interests or AB 1950’s language. Only time will tell, but until then, probationers convicted of DUI and DV offenses with specific probation periods will continue to face the same problem faced before adopting the new probation bill reforms, issues the changes were intended to end. There will be a continued increase of probation violators locked up in jail resulting in congestion in county jails and state prisons, financially straining the government.
Probation Termination and Expungement
AB 1950’s language was clear that beginning January 1, 2021, the one and two-year probation caps will take effect. Due to this, all misdemeanors and felonies committed on or after this date will be subject to the new probation reforms. Also, if you were committed to probation before the date the recent changes took effect, you will still be subject to the new laws. However, if your probationary term is longer, you can petition the law court to reduce the term in line with the new changes. Again, if you have served a probation period longer than what the new bill provides, you are eligible for probation termination. When you find yourself in any of these situations, you are likely to feel confused and not know the best option. However, before you go to court, you must ask yourself the following questions:
Are your charges eligible for a probation reduction? The best way to determine this is by talking to a criminal defense attorney. These legal experts will explain the exemptions that apply to the new law.
What is the probationary term that the judge has imposed in your case?
What duration have you been serving probation?
Is your probation still ongoing?
Are you within the new probation limitations, or has the term lapsed?
If your probationary term has already lapsed under the new amendments, would you like to terminate the probation or file for a record expunction?
If you prefer to clear your criminal record, are you eligible?
Ending probation and clearing your criminal record is not always easy. However, the results are beneficial, which is why you should consider them. When starting any of these processes, make sure you speak to a proficient criminal attorney to guide you in the process.
When you are on probation, the court supervises your conduct with the help of a probation officer until the end of the probationary term to help with your rehabilitation and ensure you avoid committing a new crime. So, terminating probation means requesting the judge remove you from the list of probationers under their supervision. By doing so, the court will no longer dictate your conduct, and you will not be required to abide by any court terms. Typically, probation ends when the duration imposed by the court lapses. However, other times you must file a petition requesting the court of law to end the probationary term early.
Before adopting the AB 1950, as a probationer, you were required to wait for at least one year before being eligible for early termination. Further, these petitions were rarely granted, and when they did, your case must have had unique circumstances.
Courts and judges did not wait long before issuing shortened probationary terms because they found that the statute is retroactive, so that all those currently on probation, would benefit from the change in the law. Luckily, with judges issuing guidance that the statute applies retroactively, if you are already on a misdemeanor or felony probation, you should petition the law court to reduce your probation term. The duration for most misdemeanors will be shortened to one year, while for most felony violations, the term will be shortened to twenty-four months. Nonetheless, if you had already served probation for more than the duration provided by the new bill, you can petition the law court to end your probation.
Criminal Record Expungement
Once the court grants your request for probation termination, either because the term has ended or you have petitioned for early termination, and your request has been granted, you should obtain an expungement.
An expungement is a court-issued instruction, dismissing the counts you face in court. In California, a conviction remains on your record indefinitely unless you petition the court to clear it. An expungement releases you from any penalties or disabilities resulting from a conviction.
Clearing the record starts with filing the necessary paperwork with the court. You can do this in person, with the help of an attorney or a probation officer. After filing the necessary paperwork, the court will hold a hearing to deliberate on the matter. At the end of the proceeding, the court can decide to let you withdraw your guilty plea or no contest plea and enter a not guilty plea. In addition, the court will withdraw the guilty verdict if you were found guilty at a trial. Either way, the court will dismiss the charges against you.
Sometimes the judge might deny your request for an expungement, but this should not mean you allow the conviction to remain in your record. Note that an expungement petition is often denied if you cannot hold down employment, have an additional sentence, and have not completed your community hours. Nonetheless, denied expungement is not the end of the road for you. You can appeal the court’s decision after six months but after complying with all court requirements.
An expungement will benefit you in any application for a job. If your offense is expunged you can honestly answer an inquiry on a job application that you have not been arrested or convicted of an offense. In addition, no employer may use an expunged conviction to take an adverse action or to deny you a promotion or any job benefit.
It is worth noting that not everyone is eligible for an expungement. Again, several factors should be considered before commencing the process, and therefore it is crucial to discuss your case with an experienced attorney to determine your eligibility for the process.
AB 1950’s Welcomed Relief for the Legal and Prison System
Before the AB 1950 reforms, the existing probation laws caused undue financial and physical strain on the legal system. Besides, probationers were in constant evaluation and surveillance even after serving jail or prison sentences. Additionally, the terms of probation were costly and failed to avail the necessary services to deter recidivism and bridge the gap between crime’s nature and reentry to society. The adoption of AB 1950 bridges this gap and provides relief to individuals and the prison system.
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