In People v. Frahs, the Supreme Court today holds that 2018 legislation allowing “pretrial diversion” for certain defendants with mental health disorders (Penal Code section 1001.36) applies retroactively to cases in which the judgment is not yet final.  The court’s unanimous opinion by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye relies on the rule that, although statutes are normally prospective only, “an amendatory statute lessening punishment for a crime [is] presumptively retroactive and applie[s] to all persons whose judgments were not yet final at the time the statute took effect.”

It doesn’t matter that section 1001.36 provides for pretrial diversion and defines pretrial diversion as “the postponement of prosecution . . . at any point in the judicial process from the point at which the accused is charged until adjudication.”  (In the case before the court, the defendant’s conviction and nine-year prison sentence for robbery was on appeal when section 1001.36 was enacted.)  The court concludes the definition “is not a clear expression of the Legislature’s intent to make the statute solely prospective,” but “simply reflect[s] . . . how the statute will generally operate when a case comes before the trial court after section 1001.36’s enactment.”

The court affirms the Fourth District, Division Three, Court of Appeal.  It also disapproves three cases that are Frahs grant-and-holds:  two divided Sixth District opinions and one Fifth District opinion.