Friday, March 22, 2019
Court of Appeal:
Good Conduct Behind Bars Does Not Aid Expungement Bid
Statutory Prerequisite of Leading an ‘Honest and Upright Life’ Cannot Be Satisfied on Basis of Behavior While in Custody, Gilbert Says in Majority Opinion; Tangeman Dissents
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Good behavior while in custody does not amount to leading an “honest and upright life,” a requirement for expungement of a misdemeanor conviction, the Court of Appeal for this district declared yesterday.
Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert of Div. Six, writing for himself and Justice Kenneth Yegan, said:
“A model prisoner is not necessarily a model citizen.”
Justice Martin J. Tangeman dissented.
Penal Code Provision
The majority affirmed an order by Ventura Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Young denying an expungement motion by Misael Vences Maya pursuant to Penal Code §1203.4a(a), which provides:
“Every defendant convicted of a misdemeanor and not granted probation...shall, at any time after the lapse of one year from the date of pronouncement of judgment, if he or she has fully complied with and performed the sentence of the court, is not then serving a sentence for any offense and is not under charge of commission of any crime, and has, since the pronouncement of judgment, lived an honest and upright life and has conformed to and obeyed the laws of the land, be permitted by the court to withdraw his or her plea of guilty or nolo contendere and enter a plea of not guilty...and...the court shall thereupon dismiss the accusatory pleading against the defendant....”
Maya pled guilty on June 30, 2011 to felony counts of driving under the influence with six prior driving-under-the-influence convictions and possession of methamphetamine and was sentenced to prison, gaining a release on Dec. 25, 2012. However, from that date to the present, he has been in the custody of the United States Department of Homeland Security, facing possible deportation.
Reduction to Misdemeanor
In 2015, Maya’s motion was granted for a reduction of the conviction for possession of methamphetamine to a misdemeanor, but last year, Young denied his bid for expungement and denied reconsideration.
“Mr. Maya has never been released from custody,” Young noted, reasoning that there has been “no opportunity . . . to determine whether he leads a law-abiding life when out of custody.”
Agreeing, Gilbert wrote:
“The trial court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that Maya has not established that he has led an honest and upright life during his state and federal custody. Compliance with prison regulations in an institutional setting does not satisfy the requirement of an honest and upright life. A custodial setting necessarily restricts an inmate’s exercise of free will; an honest and upright life demands more than mere compliance with prison regulations or participation in prison classes and activities. Prison confinement necessarily precludes evidence of inmate behavior in the face of outside temptation.”
Tangeman took issue with Gilbert’s declaration that complying with prison regulations “does not satisfy the requirement of an honest and upright life.” The dissenter said:
“No authority is cited for this conclusion because none exists.”
“The plain language of section 1203.4a compels the opposite result. The statute requires only that the misdemeanant comply with the law for one year following conviction….This includes time spent in custody….”
Tangeman said he would remand for a hearing on Maya’s conduct while in custody.
The dissenter made note that Maya is not serving a new sentence and is not charged with a new crime. In response, Gilbert said:
“[W]e are mindful that Maya is in custody because of his immigration status, and not because he committed a new crime. But he bears responsibility for that status. His being in a controlled custodial environment does not allow for proper evaluation of how Maya would conduct himself in society.”
The case is People v. Maya, 2019 S.O.S. 1239.
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