Release from the Obligation to Pay Restitutionary Fines


Part II: The Benefit of the Reward

People v. Holman
District Court of Appeals of California, Fourth District, Division Two
March 29, 2013

Holding: Among the many benefits that arise from Penal Code section 1203.4’s release of penalties and disabilities, a court may release the defendant from the obligation to pay restituionary fines.

Why This Case is Important: Subject to certain exceptions, a defendant will greatly benefit from obtaining section 1203.4 relief. A grant of relief wil remove many of the heavy burdens of conviction, and for the most part, will restore the defendant to his original status as a law-abiding citizen. Obtaining such relief sets the defendant apart from other convicted defendants who are ineligible to be granted the reward of section 1203.4. This is mainly because section 1203.4 is only available to a certain class of convicted persons, probationers. Section 1203.4 was enacted to reward rehabilitation, which is what the completion of probation was intended to signify. The reward granted is a significant reduction of the heavy burden one carries from having a conviction on their criminal record. As a result, section 1203.4 removes the disabilities and penalties imposed by the conviction, which for the most part, will make it as if the defendant no longer has a conviction.

Obtaining such a reward is important for a defendant to demonstrate to society that he has been reformed. This shall open a countless number of opportunities to him that have been closed off due to his conviction, and as happened in this case, will also serve to justify subsequent court action that further relieve the load.

It is important to note that section 1203.4 does not destroy the record of conviction. The court and prosecutor will still have access to the conviction as justice so requires. Furthermore, case law and statutory amendments have developed exceptions requiring the defendant to disclose his dismissed conviction in certain employment or professional capacities in order to protect the public. However, such exceptions are clearly and narrowly defined, and although the conviction is not completely erased, the dismissal of charges under section 1203.4 effectively eliminates many of the burdens the conviction will carry.

Facts of This Case: The defendant in this case obtained relief under section 1203.4. As a result, the court suspended or dismissed all the imposed fines, including any restitution fines that had not been fully paid. The government appealed this decision.

The court of appeals affirmed the suspension and dismissal of the restitutionary fines. The court held that section 1203.4 carried significant benefits, as it was designed to release a defendant from the penalties and liabilities of conviction. This release included the dismissal or suspension of restitutionary fines. The court reasoned that section 1203.4 virtually eliminated the consequences of the conviction, and without a true conviction, then the imposition of fines was baseless. Furthermore, the court held that being rewarded as a rehabilitated and reformed citizen could fit under the extraordinary circumstances for releasing liability to pay restituionary fines under the statute that mandated the enforcement of the fine. As a result, the court affirmed the decision of the trial court to suspend or dismiss the restitutionary fines.

Key Language: “Section 1203.4 is intended to, and does, afford meaningful relief from the consequences of conviction. The dismissal of the charge actually does relieve the beneficiary from significant burdens and disabilities, actually does remove the blemish of a criminal conviction for most purposes, and actually does restore him or her, in significant part, to preconviction status.”

Expert Advise: “The burden of having a conviction can be great, but this case is a perfect demonstration of how obtaining dismissal of the charge will significantly reduce that burden. Personal, educational, employment, or even legal opportunities, such as the dismissal of restitutionary fines that is seen in this case, become available, therefore making relief under section 1203.4 an invaluable reward for the rehabilitated defendant.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee

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