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How Plea Agreements Affect Record Clearing Eligibility in California

People v. Arata
California Court of Appeals, Third District
May 30, 2007

Holding: When Penal Code section 1203.4 is a basis for accepting a plea agreement, a defendant’s constitutional rights are violated when the court denies such relief.

Why This Case is Important: It is well established that section 1203.4 has been amended by state legislature to exempt relief from those who have committed certain sexual offenses. As a result, those defendants are entirely precluded from obtaining such relief. However, a narrow opportunity to seek relief still remains for those who have been convicted of Penal Code section 288. A defendant who meets the criteria of being granted probation and being promised with section 1203.4 relief as a basis for pleading guilty, will have his due process rights violated if the court later denies that relief. This will occur if the court finds that the promise of section 1203.4 relief was significant to the plea agreement.

Aside from upholding a defendant’s due process rights, the court of appeals in this case also recognizes the importance of section 1203.4 relief. The Attorney General in this case argued that the defendant should not be granted relief because it would be insignificant. The Attorney General argued that the defendant still had to register as a sex offender, that the conviction could still be used in subsequent criminal proceedings and that the defendant would have to disclose the conviction in applying for state or local agencies.

The court of appeals flatly disagreed with the arguments of the Attorney General. The court of appeals stated that the defendant would be able to apply for a certificate of rehabilitation, and would also allow him to advance personally and professionally. Such advances were not insignificant in the eyes of the court.

Facts of This Case: In this case, the court determined that the promise of section 1203.4 relief was a significant basis in the context of the plea bargain agreement. In 1996, the defendant in this case was charged under section 288.1. The defendant plead guilty and was found eligible for probation.

The defendant subsequently moved to withdraw his guilty plea pursuant to section 1203.4 when his probation was completed. Although a 1997 amendment to section 1203.4 had excluded relief from those with convictions such as the defendants in this case, the defendant relied on the promise in the plea bargain were he was told he would be able to have his case dismissed under section 1203.4. The government opposed the defendant’s motion, and the trial court denied the defendant’s requested relief.

The California Court of Appeals determined that to deny defendant his requested relief was a violation of the defendants due process rights. The court of appeals held that the promise of section 1203.4 relief was important to the plea bargain that the defendant received, and that denial of such relief was a significant variance from the terms of the plea agreement. The court of appeals thereby reversed the order denying the defendant his relief, and remanded the case back to the trial court to grant the motion.

Key Language: Defendant’s plea rested in a significant degree on the promise of eventual section 1203.4 relief, and such promise must be fulfilled.

Expert Advise: “Penal Code section 1203.4 has a significant impact on a defendant’s life. Because of the great rewards that section 1203.4 imparts, this court recognized that deviating from a plea agreement that promised such relief was so significant that it was found to be unconstitutional to deny the defendant’s petition. This case not only demonstrates the court’s recognition of the importance of section 1203.4, but also its willingness to enforce the rewards granted by the statute.” Attorney Mathew Higbee

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

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