A Day in a California Court — Record Clearance

The following blog post by Cecelia Chavez is part of an ongoing series of ACJP participants writing about observing court sessions. Cecelia works with the ACJP in East San Jose, and is currently a Criminal Justice Studies Major at San Jose State.

The Record Clearance Project was a very interesting court session to observe. The purpose of this program was for individuals who had felony convictions have the opportunity to get their records cleared or reduce their felony convictions to misdemeanors. It was an opportunity given to the defendants to plea their situation in front of Judge Arroyo. Each defendant explained the circumstance in which they were at the time they received the felony conviction and how they have moved on and bettered their lives. It was important for these individuals to have their records cleared because with a felony conviction in their records they are limited in the job industry. Many jobs now ask in their applications whether or not the person applying has been ever convicted of a felony, although it should not influence the employers’ decision it greatly does. With the records cleared or charges reduced each individual has a wider range of job opportunities and a second chance for a better life.

In this court hearing there were eight cases heard in front of Judge Arroyo. All the cases who were seeking clearance were granted. Two individuals who were seeking to get their felony convictions reduced to misdemeanors were not granted the reduction. The first of the cases who the judge did not grant reduction was Mr. G. The incident had happened almost thirty years ago but it was two charges of assault with a deadly weapon. Judge Arroyo analyzed the case and based on her discretion she determined that Mr. G needed to do more community service.. She explained that the reduction had to be in the interest of justice and so far if she reduced the serious felonies it would not be in the interest of justice. The second case not granted the reduction was Mr. H. He had a felony of child endangerment; apparently he had left some of his meth drug out in the open where his toddler son accidently reached it and I believe he ingested it. The judge explained that because his probation had just terminated last year it was too soon to get the charges reduced. In some way he needed to learn his lesson and suffer the consequences a little longer the judge expressed.

Overall, it was as very interesting court session and I enjoyed learning everything that Judge Arroyo was explaining. I agreed with most of the Judge’s decisions. There was an individuals to whom I would have denied the clearance if I were the judge. In Mr. M’s case the judge granted the clearance but I believe she should not have because he did not present enough evidence to prove that he had changed. Mr. Moore did not even have an adequate support system, his girlfriend was supporting him financially, and he did not have a job. The judge should have asked for prove of stability and then granted the clearance. In the women’s cases I was happy with the judge’s decision because with their records cleared they are going to be able to apply for better jobs and spent more time with their families. Lastly, I realize that it is very difficult to be a judge because they have so much power in their hands and so much discretion in how they interpret the law. I was thankful that she made time at the end to answer the students’ questions it showed she was interest in teaching the students the roles of her job. She was very friendly and forthcoming. My professor mentioned that Judge Manley, from drug court, was her mentor.

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