Friday, April 10, 2020
California Supreme Court:
Justices Reject C.A.’s Majority View That Statutory Prerequisite of Having Led ‘Honest and Upright Life’ Following Misdemeanor Conviction Connotes Law-Abiding Conduct When Not in Custody
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday reversed a determination by Div. Six of this district’s Court of Appeal, in a majority opinion, that time spent in custody does not count toward the period of leading “an honest and upright life” following a misdemeanor conviction so as to qualify the offender for an expungement.
Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye declared:
“We hold that a person may live such a life even if that person has been in custody since completing the sentence imposed for the misdemeanor.”
Her opinion reverses the March 21, 2019 decision by Div. Six’s majority, comprised of Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert, who wrote the opinion, and Justice Kenneth Yegan, who signed it, and embraced the view of the dissenter, Justice Martin J. Tangeman.
Trial Court Proceedings
The appellant, Misael Vences Maya, in 2011 pled guilty in Ventura Superior Court to possession of methamphetamine, a felony, and a related offense. He was sentenced to prison, completing his term in 2012, but was immediately detained by federal authorities and imprisoned pending deportation.
Maya succeeded in 2015 in gaining a reduction of his drug possession conviction to a misdemeanor. Then, in 2018, in his quest to avoid deportation, he sought to have the misdemeanor expunged, pursuant to Penal Code §1203.4a.
Ventura Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Young denied the request, holding that Maya could not establish that he had lived “an honest and upright life”—as required by §1203.4a—because he has been continually incarcerated subsequent to his 2011 conviction. Young observed that there had been “no opportunity...to determine whether he leads a law-abiding life when out of custody” given that he had not been out of custody.
Agreeing, Gilbert wrote:
“A model prisoner is not necessarily a model citizen.”
“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.”
“The statute requires only that the misdemeanant comply with the law for one year following conviction….This includes time spent in custody….”
The chief justice said in her opinion:
“The text of this provision strongly suggests that a court may consider a defendant’s behavior in custody, including immigration custody, when evaluating whether that defendant has lived an honest and upright life. The statute directs a court considering a request for relief to evaluate whether the defendant has ‘lived an honest and upright life’ ‘since the pronouncement of judgment’…, not since ‘the date of release from custody,’ or anything to that effect….
“Moreover, a defendant may become eligible for relief as soon as ‘any time after the lapse of one year from the date of pronouncement of judgment.’…Because a defendant convicted of a misdemeanor may be required to spend time in custody…, the statute’s focus on “time after” the pronouncement of judgment suggests that a defendant’s conduct while in custody is relevant to the court’s inquiry. If time in custody were ignored as irrelevant, then misdemeanants sentenced to longer terms of confinement would be eligible for expungement after shorter periods of honest and upright living. We have no reason to think the Legislature might have intended that result.”
Conduct in Custody
She went on to say:
“True, the fact that the conduct occurred while a defendant was in custody can be a pertinent factor in a court’s inquiry. But nothing in the statutory text or legislative history permits us to hold that such conduct is categorically insufficient to satisfy the honest and upright life requirement.”
The matter was remanded for a determination by Div. Six as to whether Young erred in denying the request for expungement in light of the high court’s determination that conduct during time in custody may be taken into account.
The case is People v. Maya, 2020 S.O.S. 1702.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on May 18, 2018, denied a petition by Maya for review of a Board of Immigration Appeals decision affirming an immigration judge’s determination that he is subject to deportation to Mexico. On April 11, 2018, he filed his request in the Ventura Superior Court for expungement.
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