People V Johnson - Completed Probation Sentences and Case Dismissals in CA

People v. Johnson
Court of Appeals of California, First District, Division One
June 30, 2014

Holding: A defendant who has successfully completed the terms of his probation without revocation is entitled, as a matter of right, to have his case dismissed pursuant to Penal Code section 1203.4.

Why This Case is Important: Although this case was decided in 1955, the holding of this case still remains pertinent today. The purpose of probation is to reintegrate the offender into society in hopes of rehabilitating him without further coercion or punishment. The successful completion of probation signifies that reformation has been accomplished. Under Section 1203.4, a defendant who has completed probation to its end and without violation is entitled to have his conviction record dismissed. As a result, the trial court is required to grant a defendant who has successfully completed probation the relief for which they have applied for under Section 1203.4.

It is important to note that a defendant is entitled to relief after successful completion of his probation, even if there is a subsequent violation after completion of probation for the original conviction. Should a defendant present evidence that he has successfully completed his probation, the government’s only avenue to prevent defendant’s requested relief is to present evidence that the defendant failed to follow the terms of his probation.

Facts of This Case: The defendant in this case was charged and found guilty of violating California Vehicle Code Section 501, a felony. The defendant received probation, which he completed without violation. Upon completion, the defendant petitioned the court for relief under Section 1203.4. The trial court denied the defendant’s petition because of a subsequent conviction the defendant had seven months after the completion of his probation.

The court of appeals reversed the decision of the trial court. The appellate court held that the language of Section 1203.4 required the trial court to grant the defendant’s requested relief when he has provided proof of successful completion of his probation. The court of appeals stated that when the conditions of probation have been met, then the trial court has no discretion in granting the defendant’s relief.

Key Language: “It is our interpretation of Penal Code, section 1203.4, that the word “shall” as used therein was intended by the Legislature to be mandatory, and if, upon the evidence and the record, a court finds that the defendant has fulfilled the conditions of his probation for the entire period thereof […] said defendant is entitled as a matter of right to the benefits prescribed in said section.”

Expert Advise: “This case establishes the purpose behind Section 1203.4. It asserts that the trial court not only can, but must grant a defendant’s requested relief if he has completed the terms of his probation without violation. And because this case stresses that section 1203.4 relief is a reward for the reformed, it builds the foundation for why relief should be granted to those who have violated their probation, but have been able to introduce evidence of reform. This appellate decision is the foundation for why such relief is granted, and truly bolsters the argument for Section 1203.4 relief for defendants who have completed their probation with or without violation.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.

To read about more cases that help to define expungement and record clearing relief laws click here.

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