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People V Chagoyan - Admissible Evidence When Attempting to Seal a Record in CA

People v. Chagoyan
California Court of Appeals, Second District, Division Two
May 1, 2003

Holding: Pursuant to California Penal Code section 851.8, a petitioner who proves that he has not committed a crime may petition the court to seal and destroy his arrest records. During his hearing, a petitioner may present any relevant and reliable evidence that would not otherwise be admissible at trial.

Why This Case is Important: Section 851.8 allows a petitioner to seal and destroy criminal arrest records by proving that he has not committed the crime. This requires the petitioner to present evidence that would lead a reasonable person to believe that he was innocent of the crime, and that the state should never have prosecuted him in the first place. In other words, the burden of proof falls upon the petitioner to show that the state was in error in arresting him.

The weight of this burdened is lightened by the fact that the petitioner may present evidence that would not otherwise be admissible during a trial. For example, hearsay is a common objection in trial, and a petitioner’s statement of the facts of what happened may be objectionable and inadmissible during trial. However, for purposes of section 851.8, a sworn affidavit containing the defendant’s statement of facts that proves his innocence will be admissible and is indeed relevant to proving eligibility under section 851.8.

Furthermore, evidence need not be confined to documents or affidavits in the petitioner’s moving papers. Any relevant and reliable evidence that establishes there was no reasonable cause to arrest the petitioner, such as testimony by witnesses and petitioner’s own testimony, should be admissible for the purpose of strengthening a petitioner’s argument that his arrest records be sealed and destroyed pursuant to section 851.8.

Facts of This Case: The petitioner in this case was charged with two Health and Safety Code violations. Prior to the start of trial, the District Attorney’s witnesses could not proceed, and the trial court dismissed the charges. Pursuant to Penal Code section 851.8, the petitioner subsequently filed to seal and destroy his arrest records. The trial court denied this request, and refused to here relevant evidence that the petitioner wished to present to establish that he was indeed innocent of the charges.

The California court of appeals reversed the denial of the petition, and remanded the matter back to the trial court with instructions to hear the evidence the petitioner wished to offer. The court of appeals stated that the burden was on the petitioner to present evidence of his innocence that would lead an ordinary person to truly believe the petitioner was innocent. The court of appeals held that in order to meet the burdens of section 851.8, the petitioner should be allowed to present any relevant evidence, even if it would otherwise be inadmissible during trial. The court of appeals determined that the evidence that the petitioner wished to offer was relevant and reliable in establishing his innocence. As a result, the court of appeals concluded that the trial court’s decision not to hear the relevant evidence was an error. The court of appeals thereby reversed the decision and remanded the case to the trial court with orders to admit the petitioner’s evidence.

Key Language: Penal Code section 851.8 permits those petitioners who can show that the state should never have subjected them to the compulsion of the criminal law – because no objective factors justified official action – to purge the official records of any reference to such action. Section 851.8 specifically permits the court to receive all relevant evidence on the subject of factual innocence, notwithstanding penal code sections relating to the suppression of evidence for the purpose of trial.

Expert Advise: “All relevant and reliable evidence that establish a petitioner’s innocence is admissible to prove that section 851.8 relief should be granted. A petitioner’s own sworn and truthful testimony is one of the most relevant, reliable, and strongest piece of evidence he can offer. The court of appeals in this case affirmed that such evidence should be admissible in determining whether section 851.8 relief should be granted.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee

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

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