Does a Suspended Prison Sentence Affect Expungement Eligibility in California?

People v. Parker
Court of Appeals of California, Second District, Division Six
June 24, 2013

Holding: A suspended prison sentence will not prevent a defendant from obtaining relief under Penal Code section 1203.4.

Why This Case is Important: Upon conviction, many courts will attach a suspended prison sentence along with probation. In other words, the court will refrain from committing a defendant to prison, and give them a term of probation instead. It is important to distinguish the difference between commitment to prison and a suspended prison sentence. Section 1203.4 allows a defendant to petition for expungement so long as they have not been committed to prison. As a result, a defendant with a suspended prison sentence would still meet the requirements under section 1203.4. When a defendant meets these requirements, the trial court must proceed in accordance with the statute to grant relief.

Facts of This Case: Defendant in this case was convicted in 2006 for possession or purchase of cocaine base for sale. The defendant was sentenced to state prison for five years; this prison sentence was suspended and the defendant was granted probation instead. Upon successful completion of probation, the defendant filed a petition to set aside his conviction under section 1203.4. The trial court denied defendant’s application because the defendant was granted a five year suspended prison sentence. According to the trial court, this suspended prison sentence prevented it from granting Section 1203.4 relief.

The court of appeals disagreed with the trial court’s decision, and remanded the case back to the trial court to exercise a decision in accordance with Section 1203.4. The appeals court held that the defendant was not committed to prison, and that a suspended prison sentence did not prevent the defendant from Section 1203.4 relief.

Key Language: “Assuming the trial court revokes probation and commits the defendant to state prison, defendant’s status changes from probationer to prisoner and defendant is ineligible for section 1203.4 relief. Stated another way, section 1203.4 applies to probationers, not parolees or former prisoners. [Defendant] is a probationer even though he was given [a suspended prison sentence].”

Expert Advise: “This case is useful because sometimes prosecutors and judges object to an application under section 1203.4 on the irrelevant basis that the defendant has a suspended prison sentence. As a result, a defendant’s ability to obtain relief may be improperly denied. This appellate decision establishes that the trial court may not deny a defendant from seeking statutory relief even if they have received a suspended prison sentence.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.

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

Find more legal articles in our articles database.