Attorney Matthew G. Kaestner

Long Beach's Criminal Law Specialist


New laws taking effect in 2015 continue a trend reversal in California criminal laws. After years of punishments getting tougher and incarceration focused rehabilitation, there is a new focus on lessening the punishment on drug crimes and minor property crimes and focusing on rehabilitation.

By far the greatest change was the passage of Proposition 47. Passed by a 59% “Yes” vote at the November 2, 2014 General Election, many former felonies became misdemeanors. Simple possession of the hard drugs, including methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, LSD and others is now a misdemeanor.

Proposition 47 also reduces the punishment on forgery offenses with a loss under $950 to straight misdemeanors, except if the person has certain very serious prior convictions referred to as “super strikes.” Daytime commercial burglary of an open business with a loss under $950 is now a simple misdemeanor.

People with charges pending, persons serving time, and persons previously convicted of these offenses are entitled to the benefit of Proposition 47. People who are currently serving a sentence, can petition to have their convictions reduced. Petitions will be granted unless the court determines the person poses an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.

People whose sentence is completed, who would have gotten a misdemeanor under Prop 47, can apply for reductions which will be automatically granted. There is a three year window to apply for the reduction.

Also, in the drug arena, persons who are found to be under the influence of a hard drug no longer face a mandatory 90 day sentence for this misdemeanor offense.

Rehabilitation was given a boost. State prisoners will now be given an enhanced opportunity to successfully transition to release. One new law requires the California Department of Corrections [CDCR] and the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, to enter into an interagency agreement to expand access to community college courses that lead to degrees or certificates resulting in enhanced workforce skills or transfer to a 4-year university.

Another law requires the CDCR to report its efforts to assist inmates and parolees to obtain postrelease health care coverage. Another law ensures that “eligible inmates” get a valid DMV Identification Card on release. A new interesting law requires the CDCR to develop a 5-year plan to extend the availability of condoms in all California prisons.

Persons applying for professional licenses (including the “healing arts”) are benefitted by a new law that prohibits suspension, revocation or denial of a license based solely on a conviction that was dismissed pursuant to Penal Code sections 1203.4; 1203.4a; or 1203.41. (Amending Business and Professions Code section 480.)

Not all changes were designed to go softer in the prosecution of criminal offenses.

The statute of limitations (the time period after a crime is committed within which the crime can be charged) was extended on major sex crimes against minors . Major sex crimes against minors can be commenced up to victim’s age 40.

The so called “gay-rage” defense took a blow, when the definition of manslaughter was changed starting in 2015. Manslaughter is the “unlawful killing of a human being without malice upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.” Before the change, accused killers were able to argue that they committed manslaughter because of rage that resulted from the the discovery of, knowledge about, or potential disclosure of the victim's actual or perceived gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. This had included circumstances in which the victim made an unwanted non-forcible romantic or sexual advance or if the accused and victim dated or had a romantic or sexual relationship.