Having a criminal record in California can seriously affect your ability to find gainful employment, be approved for a rental lease, further your education, and lead a "normal" life in various other ways as well. So long as your past conviction is visible in background checks, it can "follow you" everywhere you go.
But in California, it is often possible to clear a criminal offense off of your record by the process of expungement. At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we have comprehensive knowledge of the rules and requirements involved in getting an offense expunged, and we have hands-on experience at helping many of our clients in Pasadena and Southern California successfully navigate the expungement process.
To learn more about how we can help you get a past offense expunged from your criminal record, call us anytime 24/7 at 626-689-2277.
What Is an "Expungement?"
Under California Penal Code Section 1203.4, a system is established whereby certain classes of people convicted of crimes, including both misdemeanor and felony offenses, can have an offense expunged from their past criminal record. The statute specifies that only those who complete their probation and who have not actually served time in state prison for the offense can have that offense expunged.
Once an offense has been expunged, potential employers can no longer use it against you as a criterion for not hiring you. In fact, you can legally state that your record is clean as to that offense during a job interview. And you are also released from all penalties connected with the conviction, including any bar that may have existed on holding a professional license.
Who Can Get Their Record Expunged?
For the most part, those who have completed their probationary period, did not serve time in state prison for their offense, and who are not presently charged with or serving a sentence for some other offense, will be eligible for expungement in California.
It doesn't matter whether or not you served formal or summary probation, so long as you fully completed it and abode by its terms. Or, if your probation was legally terminated early, that will not prevent your eligibility for expungement.
To satisfy the terms of your probation, you generally must fulfill such elements as paying fines, making full restitution to victims, attending counseling, doing community service, making all your scheduled court appearances, and not committing any additional offenses while still on probation.
However, even if you failed to complete your probation or keep all of its terms, it is possible you can be approved for expungement during a special court hearing. The court can grant/deny expungement, in such cases, based on such considerations as your general conduct during probation, the nature of the charge for which you served the probation, your current employment/family/community status, and your past criminal record in regard to any other offenses.
But note that there are certain sex crime convictions that bar you from expungement, all of them involving a child victim. These include:
- Statutory rape (PC 261.5d)
- Oral copulation with a child (PC 288ac)
- Lewd acts with a child (PC 288)
- Sodomy with a child (PC 286c)
The Expungement Process in California
When expungement is complete, your original plea of "guilty" or "no contest" or your conviction despite a plea of "not guilty" will be "set aside." In its place, a "not guilty" plea will be entered, and then the charge will be dismissed as if you had never been convicted.
However, there are a number of preliminary steps that must be taken, and with which an experienced criminal defense attorney can assist you. First, you will need in-depth legal analysis as to whether or not you are eligible for expungement. Second, there will be paperwork that must be submitted by various deadlines, including giving your prosecutor notice 15 days before the expungement hearing so that he or she can challenge it if desired.
You will then need to prepare for and attend the expungement hearing, though you can opt to have your attorney appear in your stead if you wish. At the hearing, your attorney will likely first ask to have a felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor if it was a crime that can be charged as either under California law. Your attorney may also, in some cases, ask for early termination of your probationary period.
After the petition for expungement has been filed, it can take a month or two before your hearing comes up, though it may be possible to get a hearing quicker if you are "actively seeking employment." Once your expungement is approved, your attorney will provide you with the official expungement order to keep in your records.
The Benefits and Limitations of Expungement
The most important benefit of expungement for most people is the ability to legally answer "no" if asked if you have a criminal record during a job interview. However, there are four cases where you still must disclose the past offense: if applying to become a police officer, if running for public office, if applying for a state-issued license, and if applying to work for the California Lottery.
If a prospective employer omits to conduct a background check, they will likely never know you ever had a criminal record. If they do run one, they will only see that the offense was expunged. Expungement cannot prevent employers from accessing your criminal record, however, since it is a matter of "public record." Only if you get your criminal record "sealed" [see more on this below], will others be barred from viewing them.
It would be a violation of state law for an employer to not hire you based on an expunged conviction, and you will also be entitled to obtain professional licenses on the same criteria as all others applying for them.
Other benefits of expungement include avoidance of various immigration penalties and being considered a credible witness in court cases if called upon to testify.
In years gone by, these benefits of expungement were not as critical since it was slow and difficult for anyone but a police officer to access others' criminal records. Today, however, the existence of large national databases and quick and easy background check searches via computer makes it more important than ever to get past charges expunged.
There are a few limitations to expungement, however. First, an expungement will not restore a suspended driver's license. Second, it cannot restore the right to own firearms where that right has been lost after a felony conviction. Third, it cannot cancel the requirement to register as a sex offender. Fourth, even expunged offenses can count as priors and lead to enhanced sentences, including under the "Three Strikes Law." However, it is possible to eliminate the prior status of an expunged conviction via other means, such as a pardon from the governor or a certificate of rehabilitation [both of which we discuss below].
Applying for an Expungement
Under PC 1203.4, anyone who is eligible for expungement and who has finished his/her probation can immediately apply for an expungement hearing. Or, you can apply immediately after your probationary period has been approved for early termination; and the judge can approve it at his/her discretion so long as you are not in violation of your probation terms.
However, to expedite the process, a skilled lawyer can submit various motions as a "complete package" to the court. For example, a motion for an early termination of probation, for a reduction of a felony offense to a misdemeanor, and for an expungement are often all three made simultaneously.
Additionally, you will have to pay an expungement filing fee. The amount varies from county to county and based on whether you are asking to expunge a misdemeanor or a felony. If you cannot afford the filing fee, however, you may be eligible for financial assistance.
Expungement vs. Sealing a Record
Besides getting a conviction expunged from your criminal record, California law also allows for records of your arrest to be "sealed and destroyed" under Penal Code Section 1203.4. Sealing of a record can occur if an arrest took place but no charges were ever filed, if a jury acquitted you of the charge, or if you had your case dismissed. Since expungement ends with the case being formally dismissed, you can seek to have the record sealed after an expungement as well.
Once a record is sealed, you can legally state that you were "never arrested on such and such a charge" because sealing involves a declaration by the presiding judge that you are "factually innocent" regarding the charge in question.
You can also petition to have your juvenile court records sealed, provided you meet certain criteria. First, you must not have a civil action pending against you for the crime for which you went to juvenile court. Second, you cannot have been convicted of "crimes of moral turpitude" as an adult. Third, you must now be an adult, or alternatively, five years must have passed since the juvenile court no longer had jurisdiction over you.
Also note that, even with all of the conditions mention above fully met, those who have committed such crimes as armed robbery, murder, sexual abuse of a child, and the like, cannot have their records sealed.
Finally, after an expungement, your criminal record can be sealed, given that the plea was changed to "not guilty" and the case officially dismissed. In all types of record sealing, the record will first be sealed for three years and then finally permanently destroyed.
Getting a "Certificate of Rehabilitation"
Besides expungement and record sealing/destruction, another important facet of California law on eliminating or mollifying criminal records is applying for a "certificate of rehabilitation," which is an official court order stating that you have been rehabilitated.
After release from state custody, between seven and 10 years must pass before you will be eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation. The exact number of years you must wait depends on the particular crime for which you were convicted.
Benefits to obtaining a certificate of rehabilitation include:
- You are automatically considered an applicant for a pardon by the Governor of California.
- You are eligible for all state-issued licenses, unless some other issue prevents your approval.
- Employers will generally be more willing to consider hiring you since the certificate indicates you have "overcome your criminal past."
- Employers are not legally allowed to discriminate against you based on charges for which you were never convicted and are not even allowed to ask you about them.
Seeking a Pardon from the Governor
If the governor pardons you of your crimes, you are freed from all penalties associated with it. This is considered the "ultimate" way to discard the legal consequences of past convictions.
Normally, you must wait 10 years after your probation/parole ends before you can apply for a governor's pardon. However, you automatically apply [as mentioned in the section just above] following your gaining a certificate of rehabilitation, which can occur is as little as seven years after release from state custody.
The process of applying for a governor's pardon can also be sped up if you first have your records sealed/destroyed, which can occur following an expungement in which you are declared "factually innocent" regarding the charges expunged.
Call Us Today for Help
At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we possess both a detailed knowledge of California's expungement laws and extensive real-world experience in helping numerous clients through the expungement process.
We understand how a criminal conviction on your record can adversely affect you as you go about to live your life, and we can guide you step by step through the process of clearing your record.
For a free legal consultation or for an immediate beginning to the process of getting your record expunged, contact us today or anytime 24/7/365 at 626-689-2277.