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California Felon Prison Re-entry Law Requires Informed Consent

The California Court of Appeals held that a state law prohibiting ex-convicts from entering prison grounds without consent requires informed consent.

Under California Penal Code section 4571, it is a felony for anyone who has been previously sentenced to prison for a felony conviction to enter the grounds of a state prison without the warden’s consent.

Matthew Gjersvold was a licensed California private investigator. On December 2, 2010, he was convicted of California felony firearms offenses and sentenced to prison. His private investigator’s license was revoked on January 25, 2013.

On February 2, 2013, Gjersvold entered the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility (LSCF) and presented himself as a private investigator that was there to interview prisoner Jeffrey Merrill.

Gjersvold showed Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Collins his revoked private investigator’s license and driver’s license. A Visiting Center notice warned that persons convicted of a felony are not authorized to visit without approval. Gjersvold did not disclose that he was an ex-convict and Deputy Collins was not aware of his status.

Gjersvold entered the visiting area and interviewed Merrill for approximately 30 minutes. Gjersvold’s status was eventually discovered and he was charged with violating section 4571.

On May 23, 2013, a jury convicted Gjersvold of violating section 4571 and he was sentenced to a five-year probation term and 365 days in jail.

On appeal, Gjersvold argued that the trial court improperly instructed the jury that section 4571 requires informed consent – knowledge of the prior conviction – rather than mere approval before entry on prison grounds is authorized.

The California Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that because “an officer must have actual knowledge of the prior conviction in order to consent to an entry by an ex-convict, the trial court properly instructed the jury that informed consent is required.”

The court also rejected Gjersvold’s argument that prison officials have a duty to conduct criminal history reviews of individuals seeking admission. “There is nothing in the statute mandating or imposing this duty,” the court found. “The burden is on the former prisoner to inform the official of his status.” See: People v. Gjersvold, 230 Cal. App. 4th 746 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 2014), review denied.

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Related legal case

People v. Gjersvold