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People v Qualls - Applying for Post Conviction Relief in California

U.S. v. Qualls
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
March 5, 1997

Holding: A defendant is required to apply for relief under Penal Code section 1203.4 before the court will grant him relief.

Why This Case is Important: A defendant must not assume that their conviction has automatically been expunged, even after being granted early termination from probation. Admittedly, the process after one’s case has ended can be a complicated matter, which often leaves the defendant questioning what rights and potential liabilities he is exposed to after his conviction, and whether compliance with the terms of his sentence will lead to automatic relief under section 1203.4.

Qualls tells us that a defendant must actively apply for expungement in order to have his case dismissed. This case teaches us that although a defendant may be entitled to expungement of his conviction, he must not automatically assume that his conviction has been expunged upon satisfaction of his probationary terms. The defendant in this case could have potentially avoided conviction under federal law of being a felon in possession of firearms if he had only applied for expungement.

Facts of This Case: The petitioner in this case was convicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm. In 1975, the petitioner plead guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and was placed on probation. The court granted petitioner an early termination of his probation, which entitled him to section 1203.4 relief. In other words, the court was required to grant him relief. However, the petitioner failed to apply to the court for dismissal.

In 1994, the petitioner was indicted for being a felon in possession of firearms. After a jury trial, the petitioner was found guilty of the above charge. He was sentenced to fourty-one months of incarceration, three years of probation and a fine.

On appeal, the petitioner argued that he could not be charged of being a felon in possession of firearms on the assumption that his previous 1975 conviction had been expunged. The court of appeals agreed that if petitioner’s 1975 conviction had been previously expunged, then there would be no basis for his subsequent 1994 conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Although the court acknowledged that early termination of petitioner’s probation entitled him to apply for expungement, the court disagreed with petitioner’s argument because petitioner did not actually apply for expungement. The court of appeals therefore determined that the petitioner could be convicted of being a felon in possession of firearms.

Key Language: “When a court terminates a defendant's probation before the probation period has expired, the defendant is entitled to withdraw his guilty plea, have the accusation or information against him dismissed and be released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the conviction. A defendant must petition the court for such expungement. Because Qualls never made such a petition, the state court never expunged his conviction.”

Expert Advise: “This case is useful because many defendants who are entitled to relief, fail to realize that they must first apply for the requested relief. As a result, they are exposed to the dangers and liabilities of a subsequent conviction that the petitioner in Qualls was exposed to. This appellate decision teaches us a valuable lesson of the importance of applying for dismissal in order to protect oneself from potential subsequent enhanced convictions.” Attorney Mathew Higbee.

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

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