People v. Ansell, S079744.

Citation108 Cal.Rptr.2d 145,25 Cal.4th 868,24 P.3d 1174
Decision Date14 June 2001
Docket NumberNo. S079744.,S079744.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Samuel Earl ANSELL, Jr., Defendant and Appellant.

William O'Neill III, Sacramento, for Defendant and Appellant.

Daniel E. Lungren and Bill Lockyer, Attorneys General, George Williamson and David P. Druliner, Chief Assistant Attorneys General, Robert R. Anderson, Assistant Attorney General, Michael J. Weinberger, Ruth M. Saavedra and Janet E. Neeley, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


The Legislature has provided more than one means by which, after the sentence is served, a convicted felon may ask the Governor for a pardon, and may thereby seek release from certain civil disabilities attending the conviction. One such statutory procedure appears in Penal Code section 4852.01 et seq., concerning "certificates of rehabilitation" in the superior court.1 A convicted felon can request a certificate of rehabilitation, and the superior court may issue such an order, upon a compelling showing of postsentence reform. If granted, the certificate of rehabilitation serves as an automatic application and judicial recommendation for a gubernatorial pardon in the particular case.

Samuel Earl Ansell, Jr., (Ansell) is a convicted child molester who sought a certificate of rehabilitation long after he finished serving his sentence. The superior court denied the petition under a statutory amendment, adopted after Ansell committed his crimes, which makes a certificate of rehabilitation unavailable to persons who, like Ansell, have been convicted of particular sex offenses. The Court of Appeal affirmed. Ansell sought review in this court.

Ansell claims here, as below, that the amendment retroactively increases the punishment for his crimes and therefore violates the prohibition against ex post facto laws under the federal and state Constitutions. However, because a certificate of rehabilitation has no direct or indirect ameliorative effect on the "punishment" for a crime, as that word is defined for ex post facto purposes, a postcrime amendment which restricts the availability of the certificate, and thus relegates offenders like Ansell to other means of seeking a postsentence pardon, does not increase such punishment in violation of the ex post facto clause. We will affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal.

I. Statutory Background

The Penal Code prescribes punishment, of course, for the crimes defined therein. For convicted felons, including sex offenders, such punishment typically involves a prison sentence, although other dispositions such as probation are authorized in some cases. (See, e.g., §§ 1168, 1170, 1203.)2

Less known, perhaps, are the collateral consequences associated with a felony conviction after sentence has been served. Most of these disabilities have existed in some form for decades, and many appear in statutes located outside the Penal Code. Some of the more common rules include disqualification from jury service,3 impeachment as a witness,4 inaccessibility to firearms,5 and registration as a sex offender.6 In addition, a felony conviction may disqualify the person from practicing many licensed trades and professions and from holding certain positions of public employment.7 Under prior law, persons convicted of "infamous crimes" were disenfranchised even after sentence was complete.8 However, a convicted felon who is not imprisoned or on parole can now vote.9

As explained further below, convicted felons who claim to be reformed have traditionally sought relief from the various consequences of their convictions through the Governor's power and discretion to grant pardons under the state Constitution. (People v. Biggs (1937) 9 Cal.2d 508, 511, 71 P.2d 214.)10 Different pardon application procedures exist in two neighboring statutory schemes. Since both schemes affect our analysis and appear in few published decisions, we summarize them as follows.

The oldest procedure—the one not invoked by Ansell—is located in section 4800 et seq. As pertinent here, this scheme authorizes the submission of pardon applications directly to the Governor. Such direct applications are investigated and processed as set forth in the margin.11 Ansell relies on the certificate of rehabilitation procedure in section 4852.01 et seq., which, by its own terms, offers an "additional, but not an exclusive" means of requesting a pardon. (§ 4852.19.) During World War II the Governor's office was inundated with pardon applications received from ex-felons who were otherwise barred from serving in the military and working in defense industries. (See Requirement for Rehabilitation Certificate, supra, 65 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 232, 233-234; Mosk, Certificates of Rehabilitation and the New Pardon Procedure (1943) 18 State Bar J. 172, 173-175.) Enacted as an urgency measure in 1943, the certificate of rehabilitation scheme eased the administrative burden on the executive branch by allowing the superior court to investigate and recommend pardon applicants. (Stats.1943, ch. 400, § 1, p. 1922, eff. May 13,1943.)

With certain exceptions discussed as relevant below, the certificate of rehabilitation procedure is available to convicted felons who have successfully completed their sentences, and who have undergone an additional and sustained "period of rehabilitation" in California. (§ 4852.03, subd. (a) [imposing general minimum requirement of five years' residence in this state, plus an additional period typically ranging between two and five years depending upon the conviction]; see §§ 4852.01, subds. (a)-(c), 4852.06.) During the period of rehabilitation, the person must display good moral character, and must behave in an honest, industrious, and law-abiding manner. (§ 4852.05; see § 4852.06.) Several provisions make clear that a person is "ineligible to ... petition for a certificate of rehabilitation" (§ 4852.03, subd. (b)), and that no such petition "shall be filed" (§ 4852.06), unless and until the foregoing requirements are met. (See § 4852.01, subds. (a)-(c) [describing who "may file" a petition].)

Proceedings begin when a qualified person petitions for a certificate of rehabilitation in the superior court of the county in which he lives. (§ 4852.06; see § 4852.07 [requiring notice to the Governor and to the district attorney in the county or counties where the petition is filed and the petitioner was convicted].) Other provisions allow the petitioner to pursue a certificate of rehabilitation without personal expense and with professional assistance. (§§ 4852.04 [establishing a right to counsel and to assistance from rehabilitative agencies, including probation and parole officers], 4852.08 [authorizing representation by the public defender or other appointed counsel], 4852.09 [prohibiting court fees of any kind], 4852.1 [authorizing the production of official records at no charge], 4852.18 [making the petition and other necessary forms available at no charge].)

The superior court holds a hearing and considers testimonial and documentary evidence bearing on the petition. (§§ 4852.1, 4852.11.) To this end, the court may compel the production of judicial, correctional, and law enforcement records concerning the crimes of which petitioner was convicted, his performance in custody and on supervised release, and his conduct during the period of rehabilitation, including all violations of the law known to any peace officer. (Ibid.) The district attorney may be directed to investigate and report on relevant matters. (§ 4852.12.)

To enter an order known as a certificate of rehabilitation, the superior court must find that the petitioner is both rehabilitated and fit to exercise the rights and privileges lost by reason of his conviction. (§ 4852.13, subd. (a).)12 The issuing court transmits certified copies of the certificate of rehabilitation to the Governor, the Board of Prison Terms, the Department of Justice, and—in the case of persons twice convicted of a felony—the Supreme Court. (§ 4852.14.)

A certificate of rehabilitation issued and transmitted in the foregoing manner serves two functions under the language of the statutory scheme. First, it has the effect of "recommending that the Governor grant a full pardon to the petitioner." (§ 4852.13(a).) Second, the certificate of rehabilitation constitutes "an application for a full pardon upon receipt of which the Governor may, without any further investigation, issue a pardon to the person named therein, except that, pursuant to Section 8 of Article V of the Constitution, the Governor shall not grant a pardon to any person twice convicted of felony, except upon the written recommendation of a majority of the judges of the Supreme Court." (§ 4852.16.)

Whether a certificate of rehabilitation and automatic application for a pardon issues under section 4852.01 et seq., or whether a pardon is sought by direct application under section 4800 et seq., certain civil rights and privileges are restored if the Governor acts favorably on the request.13 General statements of this ameliorative principle appear in section 4852.17, concerning "a full and unconditional pardon by the Governor, based upon a certificate of rehabilitation,"14 and in section 4853, concerning all other cases "in which a full pardon has been granted by the Governor."15

More specific statutes in various codes and schemes confirm that a pardon removes or alleviates particular disabilities, including those cited earlier in the opinion.16 With respect to some disabilities, relief may be available based on the convicted felon's receipt of a certificate of rehabilitation, even where no pardon has been obtained.17

Recently, the Legislature limited the circumstances under which a certificate of rehabilitation can be sought and obtained by convicted sex offenders, particularly child molesters. Critical here is section 4852.01, subdivision (d). Effective ...

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