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Name: People v. Maya
Case #: S255371
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 04/09/2020

Opinion By: Justice Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye (unanimous decision)
A person may live “an honest and upright life” for purposes of Penal Code section 1203.4a, subdivision (a) (expungement of a misdemeanor conviction) even if that person has been in custody since completing the sentence imposed for the misdemeanor. After pleading guilty to felony drunk driving and felony possession of a controlled substance, Maya was sentenced to prison. He completed his term of imprisonment in 2012 and has been in federal immigration custody ever since. While in immigration custody, Maya’s Proposition 47 petition to reduce the felony drug possession offense to a misdemeanor was granted. He then moved to have the conviction dismissed under section 1203.4a, subdivision (a) (also referred to as expungement). The trial court denied the petition, observing that there has been no opportunity to determine whether Maya leads a law-abiding life when out of custody. A divided Court of Appeal affirmed and the California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Reversed. To qualify for a dismissal under section 1203.4a, subdivision (a) requires that the petitioner must have “lived an honest and upright life” since the pronouncement of judgment. The Supreme Court concluded there is nothing in the text, structure, or purpose of section 1203.4a that forbids a court from considering the defendant’s behavior while in custody (including immigration custody) in evaluating whether the person has led an honest and upright life. The statute directs a court to consider 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. Further, because the defendant may file the petition at any time after the lapse of one year from the date of judgment and it is possible for a misdemeanor defendant to spend up to a year in custody, the statute suggests that a defendant’s conduct while in custody is relevant to the court’s inquiry. This also makes practical sense because the possibility of expungement relief may provide a powerful incentive for good behavior while in custody. [Editor’s Note: The court declined to decide whether the trial court erred in denying Maya expungement and remanded the case to the Court of Appeal so it could consider the issue in the first instance.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: