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California Court of Appeal Announces Defendant Convicted of Felony Accessory Is Eligible for Resentencing Under Proposition 64

by Douglas Ankney

In September 2013, William Roy Boatwright was arrested while exiting a house later discovered to contain 107 pounds of marijuana, 60 pounds of marijuana shake, a vacuum-sealing device, drug paraphernalia, and four grams of methamphetamine. Boatwright told officers he was helping a friend package marijuana inside the house.In a case of first impression, the California Court of Appeal for Division One of the First District announced that a person convicted of felony accessory is eligible for resentencing under Proposition 64.

At sentencing, the People stipulated that Boatwright “knowing that others were processing marijuana either for sale or for transportation to others, assisted them after the fact.”

He was convicted of a felony count of accessory under Pen. Code § 32, which provides: “Every person who, after a felony has been committed, harbors, conceals or aids a principal in such felony, with the intent that said principal may avoid or escape from arrest, trial, conviction or punishment, having knowledge that said principal has committed such felony or has been charged with such felony or convicted thereof, is an accessory to such felony.”

Boatwright was sentenced to three years of probation. After several probation violations, defense counsel argued for resentencing under the recently passed Proposition 64. The trial court determined Boatwright was ineligible for relief because Proposition 64 does not specifically cover the crime of felony accessory. Boatwright appealed.
The Court of Appeal observed that interpretation of voter initiatives requires the application of the same principles that govern interpretation of statutes, i.e., giving the language its plain, ordinary meaning and if it is ambiguous referring to the official ballot pamphlet to determine voter intent. People v. Laird, 27 Cal.App.5th 458 (2018).

Proposition 64 reduces from felonies to misdemeanors the crimes of possession of cannabis for sale and the cultivation of more than six cannabis plants and amends the punishments to not more than six months in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than $500. Health & Saf. Code §§ 11358 and 11359. Proposition 64 provides that a defendant is eligible for resentencing if he or she is currently serving a sentence for a conviction that is either no longer an offense or would now be a lesser offense under Proposition 64. Health & Saf. Code § 11361.8(a).

To obtain relief, the defendant files a motion before the trial court requesting resentencing or dismissal. Id. The trial court is to presume the defendant is entitled to relief absent “clear and convincing evidence” he or she doesn’t satisfy the criteria of subdivision (a). People v. Smit, 24 Cal.App.5th (2018). The trial court shall grant the petition if the defendant qualifies for resentencing unless that court “determines that granting the petition would pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.” Id. An unreasonable risk of danger to public safety means “an unreasonable risk that the petitioner will commit a new violent felony.” To sustain a conviction of felony accessory, the People must prove that “someone other than the accused, that is, a principal, must have committed a specific, completed felony ....” People v. Knuckles, 56 Cal.4th 601 (2013).

The Court opined that the crimes of possession of the marijuana and of cultivation of the marijuana were both reduced to misdemeanors. Regarding the methamphetamine, the People mentioned nothing about it in the stipulated facts at Boatwright’s sentencing to indicate he was aware of it. Consequently, Boatwright was eligible for resentencing pursuant to Proposition 64. Even though Proposition 64 does not specifically mention the crime of felony accessory, he was convicted based on actions that are no longer a crime.

And in light of the voters’ apparent intent to reduce penalties for nonviolent marijuana offenses and provide postconviction relief, it would be anomalous for the principals in this case to be allowed to seek resentencing while denying Boatwright the same opportunity.

Accordingly, the Court vacated the order denying the petition for resentencing and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. See: People v. Boatwright, 36 Cal.App.5th 848  (2019). 

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