Effective January 1, 2021, Assembly Bill 1950 will limit probationary terms for a felony to two years and one year for misdemeanors. This limitation will apply retroactively to all cases not reduced to final judgment.
People v. Sims D077024 January 12, 2021
Previously, the potential length of a sentence determined the length of probation in criminal cases. Penal Code section 1203.1, subdivision (a) provided that a court may impose felony probation “for a period of time not exceeding the maximum possible term of the sentence.” It further provided that “where the maximum possible term of the sentence is five years or less, then the period of suspension of imposition or execution of sentence may, in the discretion of the court, continue for not over five years.” (Former § 1203.1, subd. (a).) (People v. Sims (Jan. 12, 2021, D077024) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.)
Effective January 1, 2021, Assembly Bill No. 1950 amended section 1203.1 to limit the maximum probation term a trial court is authorized to impose for most felony offenses to two years. (People v. Sims (Jan. 12, 2021, D077024) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.)
Does this law apply retroactively? This court, one of the first to interpret the new law, says yes.
In re GEORGE RAMIREZ ESTRADA (1965) 63 Cal.2d 740, the California Supreme Court set forth an essential qualification to the default presumption against a criminal sentencing statute's retroactivity. The Estrada Court recognized that when the Legislature enacts a new law ameliorating a criminal penalty, it determines “that its former penalty was too severe and that a lighter punishment is proper as punishment for the commission of the prohibited act.” (Id. at p. 745.) (People v. Sims (January 12, 2021, D077024) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.) Estrada held that if the law reduces a punishment or benefits the defendant, it shall be applied to pending cases, absent limiting language in the statute.
The retroactive application also applies to the limit of one year to misdemeanors. “People v. Burton (2020) 58 Cal.App.5th Supp. 1.
Therefore, we conclude the two-year limitation applies retroactively to all cases not reduced to final judgment as of the new law's effective date. (People v. Sims (Jan. 12, 2021, D077024) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.)
Still to be decided is whether trial courts will entertain motions to terminate probation after one year for misdemeanors and two years for felonies, where defendants were sentenced under prior law that required longer probationary periods. I believe People v. Sims and the amendment of 1203.1 PC provide authority for such early termination