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People V Hawkley - Can the Seriousness of an Offense Prevent Expungement?

People v. Hawley
Court of Appeals of California, First District, Division Three
January 30, 1991

Holding: When a defendant is entitled to have their conviction dismissed under Penal Code section 1203.4, , the seriousness of his offense is irrelevant in determining whether he may be granted relief.

Why This Case is Important: Certain misconceptions may arise as to whether a defendant’s conviction may be dismissed under section 1203.4. As a result, defendants may be apprehensive in seeking expungement when they or others inform them of the seriousness of their crime. This becomes more of an issue when judges and prosecutors oppose defendant’s requested relief solely because they believe that the crime is too serious.

However, subject to certain exceptions, this appellate decision states that the seriousness of the defendant’s crime has no bearing on whether he may seek section 1203.4 relief when he is entitled to it. In other words, when a defendant has completed his probation without violation, or has been discharged early from probation, the court has no discretion and must grant relief, irregardless of the seriousness of the offense.

Facts of This Case: The defendant in this case pled guilty to a count of non-forcible sodomy with a person under the age of 18. He was sentenced to five years of probation and nine months in county jail. The defendant eventually obtained favorable probation progress reports, and was ultimately recommended for early probation termination. The defendant’s probation was terminated after he had completed one-and-a-half years of his five years probation, at which time he petitioned the court for release and dismissal under section 1203.4. The trial court, however, denied this request citing only that the defendant’s offense was just too serious.

The court of appeals reversed the decision of the trial court, and noted that because the defendant was discharged early from probation based on his good behavior, that he was entitled to the relief that he sought. The court of appeals held that when a defendant is entitled to section 1203.4 relief, the court has no discretion to determine whether relief should be granted. The court therefore concluded that the seriousness of the offense was irrelevant, and ordered the trial court to enter a new order granting the defendant his requested relief.

Key Language:“If petitioner establishes that [he has fulfilled the conditions of probation for the entire period of probation, or has been discharged prior to the termination of the period of probation], then the trial court is required to grant the requested relief.”

Expert Advise: “Often times judges, prosecutors, and defendants confuse the language of section 1203.4, and do not understand whether relief can be granted. As a result, prosecutors and judges may oppose relief on irrelevant grounds, and defendants may fail to seek relief because of being uninformed. This appellate decision clarifies that a defendant who is entitled to relief must have it granted to him; it provides strong support against the argument that the entitled defendant should not be granted his requested relief because of an irrelevant factor, such as the seriousness of his crime.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.

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

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