In September 2020, Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1950, which shortened the length of probation in both misdemeanor and felony cases. Under this law, probation is capped at one year for misdemeanors and two years for felonies. Of course, there are some exceptions – AB 1590 doesn’t apply to:
- Financial crimes involving more than $25,000
- Crimes that “that includes specific probation lengths within its provisions”
- Violent felonies, as defined in Penal Code 667.5
What is Probation?
Most crimes in California are punishable by jail or prison. However, the law allows courts to sentence defendants to probation instead of the maximum amount of jail time allowed by statute. Because probation suspends “the imposition or execution of a sentence,” people on probation are subject to certain rules and requirements. Penal Code 1203(a). These requirements might include classes, such as a batterer’s treatment program in domestic violence cases, or a prohibition against committing new crimes. If someone violates their probation, the court can send them back to jail. Penal Code 1203.2(a).
What is Different Under AB 1950?
Before AB 1950, most misdemeanor offenses were punishable by three years of probation, and most felony offenses were punishable by five years of probation. This meant that people could be sent to jail for probation violations years after they were convicted of a crime, and because there are dozens of ways to violate probation, lots of people were arrested or sentenced to additional jail time for doing so. However, because AB 1950 reduces the amount of time someone is on probation, people are less likely to violate their probation and get sent to jail.
Are There Exceptions?
There are several exceptions to AB 1950, including:
- Driving under the influence
- Child abuse
- Domestic violence
- Theft ($25,000 or more)
- Residential burglary or robbery
When Does AB 1950 Take Effect?
AB 1950 only applies to defendants sentenced after January 21, 2021. That said, people sentenced before January 2021 can still benefit: the law allows defendants to ask the court to amend their probation conditions. This means that, for example, someone sentenced to three years of probation for a misdemeanor offense in December 2020 can now request their probation period is shortened to one year. Plus, this means that defendants can expunge their criminal record much sooner because they no longer have to wait three or five years for probation to end.
AB 1950’s impact on the California criminal law landscape is a profound and much-needed change. Under this law, people can move beyond a criminal conviction in less time and therefore, save the Golden State billions of dollars per year while increasing public safety.