(Alameda County Super. Ct. No. 160817). Honorable Morris Jacobson.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richman, J.
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
With certain exceptions, the Penal Code*fn1 authorizes a convicted felon to apply for a "certificate of rehabilitation." Carlos Ray Blocker would appear to be an ideal candidate for such a certificate except for one thing--he denies that there was any basis for convicting him in the first place. The decision whether to grant or deny such an application is entrusted to a trial court's discretion. The question presented is whether that discretion is abused with the denial of an applicant who adamantly insists on his innocence. Our answer is no, the trial court did not abuse its discretion.
In May 1998, a jury found Blocker not guilty of the charge of raping his stepdaughter with a foreign object (§ 289(j)), but guilty of the lesser included charges of assault (§ 240) and battery (§ 242). The jury further found Blocker guilty of two counts of misdemeanor molestation of the stepdaughter (§ 647.6, subd. (a)(1)), requiring lifetime registry as a sex offender (§ 290, subd. (c)). A sentence of 18 months in the county jail was imposed but suspended, and Blocker was admitted to three years formal probation. This court affirmed the felony judgment of conviction. (People v. Blocker (Sept. 17, 2001, A083419) [nonpub. opn.]).)
In April 2009, long after Blocker had successfully completed his term of probation, he filed a "Petition For Certificate Of Rehabilitation and Pardon."*fn2 Blocker submitted a number of testimonials attesting to his satisfying the statutory criteria for post-conviction conduct: "The person shall live an honest and upright life, shall conduct himself... with sobriety and industry, shall exhibit a good moral character, and shall conform to and obey the laws of the land." (§ 4852.05.)
The prosecution opposed the petition, but on a very narrow ground. They informed the trial court: "It appears that petitioner meets the minimum statutory requirements and is otherwise eligible to apply for a certificate. Additionally, the People are mindful of the opinion of the former trial prosecutor and the... probation report... both of which are somewhat favorable. However,... [as] highlighted in the... probation report and throughout Inspector Hu's investigation, petitioner steadfastly refuses to accept responsibility for having committed the... offenses. Although he was found not guilty of the most serious offense, he was nevertheless convicted of two counts of misdemeanor child molestation as charged, and sentenced to eighteen months in county jail after trial. In light of those circumstances, we believe defendant's continued insistence on his innocence is, to say the least, troublesome.... [W]e conclude that the petition should be denied, with denial being premised on the idea that no rehabilitation (and certainly no pardon) can occur without accepting responsibility for committing the offense in the first place."
The trial court conducted a brief hearing on Blocker's petition. There was no disagreement that since his conviction Blocker has led a law-abiding and virtually blameless life. The court was not impressed with the argument that the jury's verdict was somehow a compromise decision that perhaps diluted its face value. The court explained to Blocker's counsel why the petition was being denied:
"I think that everything you have said... is correct about life history before and after this event, but you need to understand that my assumption is that he is guilty of these offenses.... [¶] I am not second guessing a jury verdict, particularly not one where they had the opportunity to deliberate. I am not going to speculate on whether they compromised or whether some imperfection in our system arose... in a manner which was adverse to Mr. Blocker. [¶]... And... the appellate process further served to insure that due process was met in this case as to Mr. Blocker. [¶] So, my conclusion, my assumption today is that he is guilty of those... charges. The next step is... that he has steadfastly maintained his innocence. And I have concerns about granting a petition of rehabilitation, pardon, where he doesn't concede that the verdict is valid." The court stated that it agreed with the prosecution that granting the requested relief was inappropriate, given that Blocker "has never accepted responsibility for committing these offenses in the first place."
Defendant perfected this timely appeal from the minute order denying his petition.
In 1998, this court held that a petition for certificate of rehabilitation is addressed to the trial court's discretion, and the exercise of that discretion will be overturned only for manifest abuse that results in a miscarriage of justice. (People v. Lockwood, supra, 66 Cal.App.4th 222, 226-227.) We also noted that recent amendments "reflected the Legislature's obvious intent to apply stricter standards to the application process, and to make it more difficult for ex-felons to receive... certificates of rehabilitation." (Id. at p. 226.) Three years later, our Supreme Court agreed that abuse of discretion was the appropriate standard of review, adding that "[t]he standards for determining whether rehabilitation has occurred are high" and that "there is no circumstance under which the statutory scheme requires or guarantees issuance of a certificate of rehabilitation." (People v. Ansell, supra, 25 Cal.4th 868, 887-888.)
Because "rehabilitation logically assumes guilt" (State in Interest of A.L. (N.J.Super.App.Div. 1994) 638 A.2d 814, 823), numerous state and federal jurisdictions accept that "a court may properly consider a defendant's refusal to acknowledge guilt when evaluating the defendant's rehabilitation potential because acknowledgement of guilt is a critical first step towards rehabilitation." (State v. Kellis (Idaho App. 2010) 229 P.3d l174, 1177; accord, McComb v. State (Kan.App. 2004) 94 P.3d 715, 722 ["[t]he admission of guilt is a necessary step towards rehabilitation"]; State v. Greer (La.App. 1990) 572 So.2d 1166, 1171; State v. Warren (Ohio App. 1998) 708 N.E.2d 288, 295; State v. Tiernan (R.I. 1994) 645 A.2d 482, 486; State ex rel. Warren v. Schwarz (Wis. 1998) 579 N.W.2d 698, 715 ["admission of guilt [is] a necessary 'first step towards rehabilitation' of sex offenders"]; Drinkwater v. State (Wis. 1976) 245 N.W.2d 664, 668 ["recognition of guilt is the first step toward rehabilitation"]; United States v. Derrick (6th Cir. 1975) 519 F.2d 1, 4; Gollaher v. United States (9th Cir. 1969) 419 F.2d 520, 530) A natural corollary is that "A refusal to admit guilt may be relevant to the question of rehabilitation." (In re Personal Restraint of Dyer (Wash. 2008) 189 P.3d 759, 773; accord, People v. Ripley (Ill.App. 1997) 685 N.E.2d 362, 366-367; State v. Bragg (Iowa App. 1986) 388 N.W.2d 187, 192; State v. Clegg (S.D. 2001) 635 N.W.2d 578, 581; see State v. Amidon (Vt. 2008) 967 A.2d 1126, 1137 ["a defendant may... [seek] to demonstrate his amenability to swift rehabilitation by owning up to guilt and by taking responsibility for his actions"]; State v. Wood (Mo.Ct.App. 1984) 668 S.W.2d 172, 175 ["defendant's refusal to admit her guilt bodes ill for her rehabilitation"].)
" 'A pardon proceeds, not upon the theory of innocence, but implies guilt. If there was no guilt,... there would no basis for pardon.' " (Lyons v. Goldstein (N.Y. 1943) 47 N.E.2d 425, 430, quoting Roberts v. State (N.Y. 1899) 54 N.E. 678, 679.) Guilt as the predicate for pardon is virtually a judicial truism, one commanding wide acceptance. (E.g., People v. Biggs (1937) 9 Cal.2d 508, 513; Slater v. Olson (Iowa 1941) 299 N.W. 879, 883; State v. Stern (Minn. 1941) 297 N.W. 321, 323; Scott v. Raines (Okla.Crim.App. 1962) 373 P.2d 267, 270; Commonwealth v. Smith (Pa. 1936) 187 A. 387, 389; State v. Edelstein (Wash. 1927) 262 P. 622, 631; Perito v. County of Brooke (W.Va. 2004) 597 S.E.2d 311, 320; see Burdick v. United States (1915) 236 U.S. 79, 94 ["a pardon... carries an imputation of guilt; acceptance a confession of it"]; State v. Cullen (Wash. 1942) 127 P.2d 257, 259 [" 'The ...