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A San Bernardino Superior judge incorrectly rejected a former inmate’s request to drop her guilty plea under California’s new inmate firefighting law, an unpublished appellate ruling says.

Since Sept. 11, 2020, a person convicted of or who pleaded guilty to certain crimes may request to have the conviction cleared by a judge after participating in an inmate firefighting program.

The law

Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes (D-Colton) wrote AB 2147 with the intent to allow experienced former inmate firefighters a chance to find jobs at fire departments.

In 2019, California worked 3,100 inmates in 219 firefighting crews across 43 fire camps in 27 counties to total 3 million hours of free firefighting labor to the state.

From a government analysis

Without an expungement, the inmates would be disqualified from hire.

“These individuals have received valuable training and placed themselves in danger to defend the life and property of Californians,” Gómez Reyes said in a government analysis.

“However, upon release formerly incarcerated firefighters face difficulty and obstacles in achieving employment due to their past criminal record. Due to their service to the state of California in protecting lives and property those individuals that successfully complete their service in the fire camps should be granted special consideration relating to their underlying criminal conviction.”

In 2019, the state worked 3,100 inmates in 219 firefighting crews across 43 fire camps in 27 counties, according to the government analysis.

Per year, the program provides 3 million hours of free firefighting labor to the state, saving California $100 million in costs, according to the analysis.

The law does not allow certain convictions to be cleared: murder, kidnapping, rape, child molestation, arson, or any felony punishable by death or life imprisonment.

Maria Lopez

Maria Lopez had pleaded guilty to attempted second degree murder in 2013, according to the appellate ruling. During her time in prison, she fought fires with the California Conservation Camp Program.

Lopez filed a petition April, 2021, after she was released from prison, requesting her plea to be dismissed.

San Bernardino Superior Court denied the petition, believing attempted murder precluded Lopez from being considered under the law.

The appellate court disagreed.

Had the legislature intended to prevent defendants convicted of attempted violations of the enumerated ineligible offenses from obtaining relief under (Penal Code) Section 1203.4b, “the legislature would have said so,” the court ruled, quoting the 2006 case People v. Lewis.

Case information

San Bernardino Superior Judges Katrina West and Daniel Detienne presided.

Sheila O’Connor, appointed by the Court of Appeal, represented Lopez.

Attorney General Rob Bonta; Chief Assistant Attorney General Lance Winters; Assistant Attorney General Julie Garland; and Deputy Attorneys General Charles Ragland, Arlene Sevidal and Juliet Park represented the people.

Associate Justice Carol Codrington of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Two, wrote the opinion, joined by Presiding Justice Manuel Ramirez and Associate Justice Douglas Miller.

San Bernardino Superior Court case number FWV1101402.

Appellate case number E077749.

Read the appellate ruling here.


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