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People v. Allen

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

October 22, 2019

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
LEOLA ALLEN, Defendant and Appellant.

          APPEAL from orders of the Superior Court of San Diego County Nos. CR143205, SCD120970, SCD153778, Jay M. Bloom, Judge. Affirmed and remanded, with directions.

          Andrea S. Bitar, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, Arlene A. Sevidal, Randall D. Einhorn and James M. Toohey, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          HALLER, ACTING P. J.

         Defendant Leola Allen pleaded guilty to committing felony welfare fraud in 1993, 1997, and 2000 (and to committing felony perjury in 2000). At sentencing in each case, the trial court ordered Allen to pay direct victim restitution and various fines and fees. In 2018, Allen filed petitions under Penal Code sections 1203.4 and 1203.42 seeking discretionary "expungement" of her convictions on the basis she had been rehabilitated.[1] She also sought to stay, dismiss, or delete her court-ordered fines and fees because she asserted she was unable to pay them. The prosecution opposed the expungement requests because Allen still owed about $9, 000 in direct victim restitution; the prosecution did not oppose the request for relief from the fines and fees. The trial court denied Allen's petitions based on her outstanding victim restitution obligations, but did not directly address her request for relief from the fines and fees.

         On appeal, Allen argues that under the recent decision in People v. Dueñas (2019) 30 Cal.App.5th 1157 (Dueñas), the trial court's denial of her expungement petitions on the basis of her outstanding victim restitution obligations violated her due process or equal protection rights because she was financially unable to pay the victim restitution. As we will explain, this argument lacks merit for two reasons. First, Dueñas is materially distinguishable-it involved revenue-generating assessments and a punitive restitution fine, whereas this case involves voter-mandated direct victim restitution intended to make the victim whole. Second, we agree with the analysis of numerous courts that have rejected Dueñas's due process framework.

         Alternatively, Allen contends the trial court erroneously concluded that her outstanding victim restitution obligations deprived the court of the authority to grant discretionary expungement. The record does not support this contention.

         On remand, however, we direct the trial court to conduct further proceedings in two respects. First, because the trial court did not directly address Allen's request for relief from the court-ordered fines and fees (other than victim restitution), we will direct the trial court to do so. Second, because the record is unclear regarding whether Allen paid all the victim restitution owed in connection with her convictions in 2000, we will direct the trial court to make this factual determination and, if the court determines she has paid it all, to reconsider her expungement petition in light of that fact.

         In all other respects, we affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Allen's Underlying Convictions

         The 1993 Case

         In 1993, Allen pleaded guilty in case No. CR143205 (the 1993 Case) to one felony count of failing to report income to the Department of Social Services (Department) resulting in her receipt of more than $400 in unentitled benefits (hereafter, welfare fraud). (Welf. & Inst. Code, former § 10980, subd. (c)(2).)[2] The trial court placed Allen on probation for five years, ordered her to pay victim restitution of $10, 994, and imposed a restitution fine of $200. Allen's probation expired in 2000.

         The 1997 Case

         In 1997, Allen pleaded guilty in case No. SCD120970 (the 1997 Case) to one felony count of welfare fraud. (Welf. & Inst. Code, former § 10980, subd. (c)(2).) The trial court placed Allen on probation for five years, ordered her to pay victim restitution (the appellate record does not indicate the amount), and imposed various fines and fees (including a $200 restitution fine, $507 for court-appointed attorney fees, and unspecified investigatory and report-preparation costs).

         The 2000 Case

         In 2000, Allen pleaded guilty in case No. SCD153778 (the 2000 Case) to one felony count of welfare fraud (Welf. & Inst. Code, former § 10980, subd. (c)(2)), and one felony count of perjury (§ 118, subd. (a)). The trial court sentenced Allen to three years in prison, ordered her to pay victim restitution of $2, 821, and imposed a restitution fine of $400.

         As a result of her convictions in the 2000 Case, the trial court revoked Allen's probation in the 1997 Case and sentenced her to two years in prison.

         Allen's Petitions to Expunge Her Convictions

         In September 2018, Allen filed separate (but substantially similar) petitions in the 1993, 1997, and 2000 Cases seeking to expunge her convictions and to "permanently stay, dismiss, and/or delete" the court-ordered fines and fees (but not the victim restitution, which she acknowledged would survive expungement). Allen invoked the court's discretionary authority under sections 1203.4 (as to her conviction in the 1993 Case) and 1203.42 (as to her convictions in the 1997 and 2000 Cases) to further "the interest of justice."

         In a supporting declaration, Allen stated she had remained sober and law-abiding for the past 17 years; obtained employment until her "100%... SSI Disability assessment" prevented her from working further; pursued a GED and enrolled in a community college course; and regularly attended church. She stated in her declaration that she was seeking expungement, in part, because one of her sons is serving a life sentence in prison, and when she "tried to visit him, [she] was denied entry because of [her] three prior felony convictions. Obtaining the requested post-conviction relief will allow [her] to visit [her] son."

         Allen acknowledged she had several outstanding court-ordered financial obligations: (1) in the 1993 Case, victim restitution of $4, 374; (2) in the 1997 Case, victim restitution of $4, 626.64, attorney fees of $507, supervision costs of $167, and fines totaling $408; and (3) in the 2000 Case, no victim restitution, but fines in the amount of $400. Allen asserted she was unable to fulfill these obligations because she is 59 years old, is "100% disabled owing to mental illness," lives "in Section 8 Housing," and subsists entirely on "SSI Disability" assistance of $910.72 per month.

         The Prosecution's Oppositions

         The prosecution opposed Allen's requests that her convictions be expunged, arguing her outstanding victim restitution obligations precluded expungement as a matter of right or as a matter of discretion in the interests of justice.[3] The prosecution did not oppose Allen's request to stay, dismiss, or delete the court-ordered fines and fees other than victim restitution.

         The Hearing and Ruling

         At the outset of the hearing on Allen's petitions, the trial court indicated it "wasn't inclined to grant" them "because she owes victim restitution," which "is a little different." Defense counsel responded that even if the convictions were expunged, the victim restitution obligations would still be enforceable as civil judgments. He further argued Allen was "being discriminated against because she can't pay." The court responded: "Well, I respectfully disagree, because every defendant could avoid restitution and ask for a civil judgment.· I know you can get one, but there's still an issue ...


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