Supreme Court Reverses 'Street Terrorism' Conviction Based on Prop. 47

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 07, 2019

Luis Valenzuela made a mistake when he took a bicycle from Manny Ramirez. His next mistake was telling Ramirez where to meet him to fight for it.

Instead, Ramirez told police where Valenzuela was. They arrested him, and he was convicted of grand theft and street terrorism in People v. Valenzuela. Valenzuela got lucky, however, when California voters changed the law that reduced his theft crime to a misdemeanor. He got lucky again when the state Supreme Court threw out his terrorism conviction.

Lucky Strikes

It was no small change of fortune. When Valenzuela was convicted in 2014, he was sentenced to nine years and eight months in prison because he had a prior felony, a strike conviction, and a street-gang enhancement. With the Supreme Court decision, he is virtually a free man because he's already served time for the misdemeanor theft.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, writing for a divided court, said Valenzuela could not also be sentenced for felony street terrorism because of Prop. 47. The statute did not specifically say so, but it did apply to his theft crime. That "imparts that an essential element to defendant's conviction for street terrorism is no longer present," the chief justice said. "Given the circumstances before us, defendant cannot properly be resentenced for the street terrorism offense," Cantil-Sakauye wrote in reversing and remanding the case to the state appeals court.

Two justices did not agree. Justice Carol Corrigan said Prop. 47 intended to "reduce punishment for nonserious theft and drug crimes," but not "participating in a criminal street gang." Justice Leondra Kruger said the majority "conflates the grand theft conviction with the conduct underlying it."

Gang Crimes

It means that people convicted of gang crimes, such as stealing for a gang, can have their felonies reduced to misdemeanors, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Lawyers at Horvitz & Levy see it a little differently. They said Prop. 47 has left "many interpretive issues" for the courts. They noted 10 different  state supreme court decisions dealing with the proposition in the last two years. "And there are more Proposition 47 cases waiting for argument," they said.

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