APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Siskiyou County, Donald R. Langford, Judge. (Super. Ct. Nos. 101550, 101776)
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Raye , P. J.
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
This case addresses whether the 2011 realignment legislation (hereafter Realignment Act, Stats. 2011, ch. 15) must be applied retroactively to all defendants whose convictions are not yet final. We find that a defendant's right to equal protection of the law does not prevent the Legislature's limiting the act's application to felons sentenced on or after its operational date of October 1, 2011.
We dispense with a recitation of the facts of the crimes as they are unnecessary to resolve this appeal.
Defendant Deandre Deshawn Lynch pleaded no contest to possession of methamphetamine with a prior narcotics conviction (Health & Saf. Code, §§ 11378, 11370.2, subd. (c)) in case No. 101550 and failure to appear (Pen. Code, § 1320, subd. (b)) in case No. 101776.*fn1 On June 7, 2011, he was sentenced to a stipulated term of four years four months in state prison.
The Realignment Act significantly changes felony punishment. Under prior law, felonies were offenses punished by death or imprisonment in state prison. (§ 17, former subd. (a).) The Realignment Act changes the definition of a felony to an offense punishable by death, imprisonment in state prison, or by "imprisonment in a county jail under the provisions of subdivision (h) of Section 1170." (§ 17, subd. (a).) The newly added section 1170, subdivision (h) provides that felonies are generally punished by confinement to county jail for the term prescribed for the underlying offense. (§ 1170, subd. (h)(1), (2).) Courts may suspend execution of "a concluding portion" of the county jail term and place the defendant under the "mandatory supervision" of the county probation department. (§ 1170, subd. (h)(5)(B).) Defendants sentenced to county jail are not subject to parole, which extends only to defendants who have served prison terms. (See § 3000 et seq.) The only felons subject to a state prison sentence are those with a current or prior serious or violent felony conviction, or who are required to register as a sex offender, or who are subject to the section 186.11 aggravated white collar crime enhancement. (§ 1170, subd. (h)(3).)
Defendant's contention concerns the Realignment Act's savings clause, which limits application of the new sentencing scheme to defendants sentenced on or after October 1, 2011.*fn2 Defendant is not subject to the sex registration law, does not have a current or prior conviction for a serious or violent felony, and is not subject to the aggravated white collar crime enhancement. But for the date he was sentenced, June 7, 2011, he would receive the benefits of the Realignment Act. Defendant argues that the prospective application of the Realignment Act violates his right to equal protection of the law.
"The equal protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment and the California Constitution are substantially equivalent and analyzed in a similar fashion. [Citations.]" (People v. Leng (1999) 71 Cal.App.4th 1, 11.) We first ask whether the two classes are similarly situated with respect to the purpose of the law in question, but are treated differently. (Cooley v. Superior Court (2002) 29 Cal.4th 228, 253.) If groups are similarly situated but treated differently, the state must then provide a rational justification for the disparity. (People v. Hofsheier (2006) 37 Cal.4th 1185, 1200-1201.) However, a law that interferes with a fundamental constitutional right or involves a suspect classification, such as race and national origin, is subject to strict scrutiny requiring a compelling state interest. (San Antonio Independent School Dist. v. Rodriguez (1973) 411 U.S. 1, 17 [36 L.Ed.2d 16, 33].)
Relying on People v. Saffell (1979) 25 Cal.3d 223 (Saffell), defendant contends his liberty interest in the Realignment Act cannot be subject to discrimination based on the date of his sentencing. Finding no compelling or even any rational interest justifying prospective application of the law, he asks us to vacate his sentence and remand for resentencing under the Realignment Act.
Saffell addressed an equal protection challenge to the Mentally Disordered Sex Offenders Act (former Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6300 et seq.). (Saffell, supra, 25 Cal.3d at pp. 225-226.) A defendant found to be a mentally disordered sex offender (MDSO) and amenable to treatment was committed to treatment for the upper term for his offense and could not earn credits for good behavior. (Id. at p. 226.) The defendant argued that depriving him of good behavior credits and the possibility of a lesser term violated his equal protection rights. (Id. at p. 228.)
The Supreme Court began its analysis by noting "that the most basic personal liberty interest is involved. While the degrees of restraint for an MDSO may vary considerably, from confinement in state hospital [citation] to outpatient care [citation], there is in any case a very considerable limitation on that freedom of action enjoyed by all other citizens." (Saffell, supra, 25 Cal.3d at p. 228.) Since personal liberty is a fundamental interest protected under the state and federal Constitutions, the Supreme Court applied the compelling state ...