California’s AB 1950 amends the California State Penal Code to limit adult probation to a maximum of one year for misdemeanor offenses and two years for felony offenses. Before the change in the law, misdemeanor probation was typically three years and felony probation from three to five years.
What is Probation and How Long Does Probation Last?
If you were convicted of a crime, chances are you were placed on probation. If you agree to probation, you will not be given a maximum jail or prison sentence. Instead, a judge will suspend your sentence and give you a term of probation, where you must abide by those conditions in order to avoid being sentenced to a term of custody.
There are two types of probation, informal probation and formal probation. Informal probation means you are not supervised, whereas formal probation requires supervision by a probation officer. The period of probation will depend on the criminal charges and whether you are convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor. In many cases, you are placed on probation for a specified number of years. Unfortunately, the longer you remain on probation, the chances of violating the terms of your probation increase.
The judge determines the terms of probation at sentencing, which are usually numerous conditions. As a result, there are several ways to violate those terms and conditions. Some ways you may violate probation is by failing to pay your fines, failing to appear in court, failing to complete a program, failing to complete work program or community service, failure to report to your probation officer, failure to keep a job, failure to install an ignition interlock device, and failure to obey all laws (in some cases, even minor traffic offenses).
When you are found to be in a violation of probation, the judge can revoke your probation and sentence you to jail or prison. Even if the judge allows you to remain on probation, he or she can reinstate probation and extend your probation, giving you an even longer probation term.
AB 1950 amended Penal Code 1203a to reduce probation for most misdemeanors to one year. PC 1203a will now read (emphasis added):
(a) In all counties and cities and counties, the courts therein, having jurisdiction to impose punishment in misdemeanor cases, may refer cases, demand reports, and to do and require anything necessary to carry out the purposes of Section 1203, insofar as that section applies to misdemeanors. The court may suspend the imposition or execution of the sentence and make and enforce the terms of probation for a period not to exceed one year.
(b) The one-year probation limit in subdivision (a) shall not apply to any offense that includes specific probation lengths within its provisions.
As it pertains to felony charges, AB 1950 will reduce probation on most felony charges to two years. PC 1203.1(a) is amended (in part):
The court, or judge thereof, in the order granting probation, may suspend the imposing or the execution of the sentence and may direct that the suspension may continue for a period of time not exceeding two years, and upon those terms and conditions as it shall determine. The court, or judge thereof, in the order granting probation and as a condition thereof, may imprison the defendant in a county jail for a period not exceeding the maximum time fixed by law in the case.
Exceptions to AB 1950
There are some exceptions to the new laws. In felony cases, the law does not apply when someone is convicted of a violent felony (commonly referred to as strike offenses). If you pled to residential burglary, robbery, or even threats charges, you do not qualify under the new law. Further, if you have a theft charge, depending on the charge and where the value stolen was over $25,00.00, you do not qualify.
For misdemeanors, 1203a(b) states, “the one-year probation limit in subdivision (a) shall not apply to any offense that includes specific probation lengths within its provisions”.
For felonies, 1203.1(m) states that the two-year probation term shall not apply to:
(1) An offense listed in subdivision (c) of Section 667.5 and an offense that includes specific probation lengths within its provisions. For these offenses, the court, or judge thereof, in the order granting probation, may suspend the imposing or the execution of the sentence and may direct that the suspension may continue for a period of time not exceeding the maximum possible term of the sentence and under conditions as it shall determine. All other provisions of subdivision (a) shall apply.
(2) A felony conviction for paragraph (3) of subdivision (b) of Section 487, Section 503, and Section 532a, if the total value of the property taken exceeds $25,000. For these offenses, the court, or judge thereof, in the order granting probation, may suspend the imposing or the execution of the sentence and may direct that the suspension may continue for a period of time not exceeding three years, and upon those terms and conditions as it shall determine. All other provisions of subdivision (a) shall apply.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Domestic Violence (DV) Exemptions
As you can see, in both misdemeanor and felony cases, there is an additional exception that exists. In each statute, it clearly states the reduced probation lengths do not apply when the crime “includes specific probation lengths within its provisions”. In other words, when a statute states a probation period, then that provision will override the new law. Two such examples are DUI and DV (both can be misdemeanor or felony charges). Each crime clearly holds a mandatory probation period (three to five years).
Terminating Probation and Expungements
If you are already on probation and you were given a longer probation term, you will need to file paperwork in order to have your probationary period reduced. If you have already been on probation longer than the new law allows, you may be eligible to terminate probation. To determine the best course for you, there are some questions that need to be examined before going to court.
Terminating Probation (For Those Already on Probation)
Terminating probation occurs when you ask a judge to stop requiring you to remain under the supervision of the court. By terminating your probation, the court is unable to dictate your behavior and you no longer face a violation of probation. In most cases, probation will expire on its own because the probation period has passed. In other cases, you may petition the court to terminate probation early. Before the new law, you had to wait at least a year and then the court would consider your motion. In many instances, judges rarely granted these motions and when it was granted, it was usually a result of exceptional circumstances.
Once probation is terminated, either by its own terms or because you filed the necessary paperwork and obtained a court order terminating probation, you are still required to obtain an expungement.
An expungement is a court order that dismisses the charges against you. A conviction will remain on your record until you do something about it. That means that you must file documents with the court and in most cases, have a judge hear your case to determine if you are eligible to have your record expunged. Generally, terminating probation and expunging your record can occur at the same time. Once the charges are dismissed, it means you can legally say that you have not been convicted of a crime. This is extremely important when you are trying to clear the stigma of a conviction when looking for a job, housing, schooling and student loans. However, there are many factors to consider before petitioning for an expungement, so it is important to contact my office to make sure you qualify for an expungement.
A client had her felony probation reduced from five years to three and will be eligible to expunge her conviction at the end of this year. She has been very diligent in completing all required classes, paying the fines, and is now attending online classes so she can be gainfully employed. You can email me at [email protected] or call my office at 310-601-7144 so we can help you with your quest for a new “beginning.”
To receive updates on legal advice, please like my Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/attycarinacastaneda/ or follow me on Twitter: @AttyCastaneda and Instagram: @atty.castaneda.