California Supreme Court Opinion Analyzing Equal Protection Claim Regarding Certificates of Rehabilitation

On February 1, 2018, the California Supreme Court issued an opinion in People v. Jody Chatman (2018 S.O.S. 582) addressing whether the differing eligibility criteria for former probationers and former prisoners for obtaining a Certificate of Rehabilitation under Penal Code section 4852.01 survives an equal protection challenge under the federal and state constitutions. (Page 2).[1]

As the law on Certificates of Rehabilitation currently stands, former probationers and former prisoners are both eligible to apply for the relief a Certificate offers. However, once former probationers receive the benefit of having their convictions dismissed under section 1203.4, they are ineligible to apply for a Certificate of Rehabilitation if they are subsequently incarcerated. (Page 1).[2]

In its Opinion, the California Supreme Court rightfully noted that adjudicating eligibility for Certificates is a significant expenditure of the state’s judicial and executive branch resources. (Page 2).[3] The Legislature determined that in order to best preserve resources, it had to engage in a line-drawing for who could petition for the relief. (Id.). Therefore, the Legislature determined that relief is only available to former prisoners and former probationers who have not been subsequently incarcerated. (Id.). This case addresses whether this distinction survives rational basis review.

The Supreme Court of California determined that the classification at issue in this case, which bars subsequently incarcerated former probationers from Certificate of Rehabilitation relief, is a rational means of preserving government resources. (Page 14).

The Court determined that former prisoners have a higher need for the relief provided from a Certificate of Rehabilitation, especially given that they are not eligible for relief under Section 1203.4. (Page 14). Further, former probationers have a right to a dismissal under Section 1203.4, even though this dismissal does not eliminate all the negative consequences of the former probationer’s convictions, it provides at least some relief from the consequences of the conviction. (Id.). Finally, the bar on eligibility for former probationers who are subsequently incarcerated evidences the Legislature’s intent to conserve resources and extend relief to those that show the most rehabilitative promise. (Page 15).

In conclusion, the California Supreme Court upheld the distinction allowing only former prisoners and former probationers who have not been subsequently convicted to petition for a Certificate of Rehabilitation.


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[1] For full text of the opinion see:

[2]See our Blog Post regarding expungements under Penal Code section 1203.4 for a better understanding of the benefits and procedure for obtaining an expungement.

[3] Certificates of Rehabilitation were first introduced as an “urgency measure” forged against the backdrop of World War II. (Page 5). As demand for military recruitment and labor in defense-related industries increased as a result of the war, many felons were barred from serving or working in the industry because of their convictions. (Id.). Certificates of Rehabilitation were intended to create a means for former felons to gain relief from certain effects of a felony conviction, such as ineligibility from certain employment licenses. (Id.).