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Naturalization of Citizenship & California Penal Code 1203.4

In Re Paoli
District Court, N.D. California, Southern Division
March 11, 1943

Holding: For naturalization of citizenship, a court may disregard the crime of the applicant who has obtained Penal Code section 1203.4 relief, but may, in its discretion consider the nature of the crime, how it bears upon character of the applicant, and whether it indicates that the applicant will be a good citizen.

Why This Case is Important: Applicants seeking to become naturalized citizens must first demonstrate the proper moral character, and indicate that they will be good citizens. However, an applicant with a prior conviction may run into difficult roadblocks to overcome. Although getting one’s conviction dismissed pursuant to section 1203.4 does not guarantee naturalization of citizenship, it is a step in the right direction. After all, section 1203.4 relief signifies rehabilitation, reformation, and a capability of being integrated back into society. Although these characteristics do not guarantee naturalization, it does weigh in favor for it, and allows applicants with a prior convictions to bolster their applications for citizenship.

Facts of This Case: The defendant in this case was arrested for a felony and was placed on probation for a period of three years. In 1941, he applied for naturalization of citizenship after marrying a citizen of the United States. While the application was still pending, he petitioned for and was granted relief under section 1203.4. The Government, however, moved to deny the defendant his application for naturalization on the grounds that the defendant lacked good moral character as provided by the laws of naturalization.

The court stated that the outcome of the case hinged on the definition of good moral character, and how section 1203.4 acted upon that definition. The court recognized that the rewards of 1203.4 are given due to recognition of good behavior. However, the court also stated that although section 1203.4 will relieve the defendant of certain penalties and liabilities, it does not take away from the fact that the violation actually occurred. The court struck a balance between the rewards of 1203.4 and the existence of the violation by concluding that a court may disregard a crime where the state has given the applicant section 1203.4 relief, but may in its discretion, consider the nature of the crime, how it bears upon the character f the applicant, and whether it indicates the applicant will be a good citizen.

The court then went on to analyze whether the defendant was worthy of naturalization. The court determined that the defendant had only one violation, and that the defendant successfully completed probation and had his conviction dismissed. The court recognized analyzed the nature of the crime, and determined it was purely a statutory crime. As a result, the court denied the motion of the government, and ordered that the defendant be admitted to citizenship.

Key Language: “The court may disregard or forgive the crime of the applicant where the State has found him worthy of the rewards provided for in Section 1203.4, it may also in its discretion, notwithstanding the action of the State, consider the nature of the crime, how it bears upon the character of the applicant, and whether it indicates the petitioner will not be a good citizen.”

Expert Advise: “This case clearly demonstrates the benefits of post-conviction relief through section 1203.4. Successful dismissal of one’s conviction communicates to society, employers, and governmental bodies that a defendant is a law-abiding citizen, which places defendants in an advantageous position to move forward with their life.” Attorney Mathew Higbee.

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

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