In Ventura County Superior Court, Victoria Mae Saxton was convicted of both misdemeanor DUI and felony for willfully evading a police officer, Vehicle Code § 2800.2(a). This is a fairly common fact pattern that we see in perhaps five to ten percent of cases. Sometimes, the failure to stop is unintentional and the driver’s alcohol intake creates the impairment that decreases the driver’s ability to multi-task to notice the flashing blue and red lights following him or her.
In Saxton’s case, the judge suspended imposition of the sentence and placed her on three years of formal probation and warned her that she faced felony punishment for any violation during the three years of felony probation.
On January 1, 2021, Assembly Bill (AB) 1950 became effective, modifying Penal Code §§ 1203a(a) (misdemeanor probation) and 1203.1(a) (felony probation) to limiting probation for most misdemeanors to one year and two years for most felonies. The limit on probation was subject to rather significant exceptions if the statute under which defendant is convicted specifies a probation period longer than the one or two years if the case is a misdemeanor or felony, respectively.
A conviction for violation of Vehicle Code § 23152 constitutes one of the most common exceptions to AB 1950, as Vehicle Code § 23600(b)(1) sets probation for any misdemeanor DUI at three years. Child abuse, domestic violence and commercial burglary (Penal Code § 459) are other exceptions to the one-year informal probation limit that AB 1950 otherwise sets.
A felony violation of Vehicle Code § 2800.2(a) is not an exception to AB 1950’s two-year probationary term. The only felony convictions that are exceptions to the two-year formal probation term are felonies listed in Penal Code § 667.5(c), felonies that include specific probation terms within their provisions and “white collar crimes” that involve property valued in excess of $25,000. People v. Schulz (2021) 66 Cal. App. 5th 887, 898.
Saxton appealed her sentence to the Second Appellate District Court in Ventura, arguing that AB 1950 limits the felony consequences of a probation violation to the first two years. The Second Appellate District Court agreed.
The appellate court pointed out that in a “mixed” case such as this, the task of the appellate court is to ascertain the Legislature’s intent when it enacted AB 1950. The court explained that is begins its analysis with AB 1950’s words, “giving them their plain, commonsense meanings.” “We construe the words in context of related statutes, harmonizing them whenever possible.” “We will follow [AB 1950’s] plain meaning, unless doing so would lead to absurd results the Legislature did not intend.” Presbyterian Camp & Conference Centers, Inc. v. Superior Court (2019) 42 Cal. App. 5th 148, 154.
AB 1950 itself specifies that a court can order that defendant be placed on formal probation for three years when, as here, the conviction includes a misdemeanor conviction for driving under the influence. The probation can be formal or informal probation for a misdemeanor DUI. Penal Code § 1203(a); see also People v. Glee (2000) 82 Cal. App. 4th 99, 104.
However, the court could only punish her with felony probation violation during the first two years of probation. It could not, in other words, extend felony probation violation punishment consequences for three years. Saxton could not suffer felony punishment consequences if she successfully completed the first two years of probation and violates probation during the third year of her probationary term.
Therefore, the court ordered that Saxton could only face felony punishment consequences for a probation violation that occurred during her first two years of probation, but not during the third year. The court further modified her third year of probation to be informal, or summary probation.
We bring this article to the reader’s attention because AB 1950, while certainly welcome, also raises certain questions in “mixed” cases such as the Saxton matter. The Second Appellate Court’s discussion of the Legislative intent and how an appellate court reviews a statute is helpful for anyone struggling to understand how to interpret a statute.
For more information about AB 1950 issues, please click on the following articles: