If you have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor and have served your sentence, many states will allow you to utilize a post-conviction proceeding called an expungement. Depending on your state, expungement can mean different things, including limiting the access of the public to your records to permitting actual destruction of your physical records of conviction.

In California, your records of conviction are not destroyed and are still available in certain circumstances, though a grant of relief post-conviction may be helpful as it can allow you to deny a conviction on some job applications. As a general rule, jobs with the government or which require a security clearance are excepted. 

What Does it Mean to Expunge Your Record?

Expungement can be an important post-conviction option for you as it can be helpful in removing barriers to gaining employment and housing. An expungement may be known by different names from state to state, including expunction or sealing, cleaning or clearing the record of conviction.

Also depending on your state, expungement may be limited to certain records or to certain crimes and the expunged record may be used in considering the severity of sentencing for future crimes.

Can Any Criminal Conviction Be Expunged From Your Record?

If a state allows for expungement of a record, it may limit the nature of crimes that are eligible for expungement. Typically, felonies and sex offenses involving children are not eligible. Some states may even place a limitation on the number of convictions that may be eligible for expungement, require the passage of a specific amount of time following the conviction or that you show some evidence that you have successfully re-entered society. Generally, juvenile offenses are expunged automatically.

How is Record Sealing Different from Expungement?

There is often confusion about expungement versus record sealing. In the former, again depending on your state, true expungement means that the physical records have been destroyed and it is as if the conviction never occurred. In the latter, the records remain, but are hidden from the public.

How Do You File For Expungement in California?

California does allow for expungement of a criminal record of conviction after you have successfully completed your sentence, including the payment of any fees, restitutions and probationary period.

You are permitted to seek relief by filing a petition for dismissal of a felony conviction or dismissal of a misdemeanor conviction, which allows you to ask the court where your case was adjudicated, to withdraw your plea of guilty and enter a plea of not guilty.

If you have been convicted after entering a plea of not guilty, you can ask the court to set aside the guilty verdict. The district attorney who prosecuted the case must be given notice of the petition.

As with other states, California has certain factors limiting the circumstances in which you can petition for an expungement. Those include the requirement that you:

  1. Are not serving a current sentence for another crime;
  2. Are not charged with a new crime;
  3. Are not serving probation for another offense; and
  4. Did not serve time in state prison for the offense

Additionally, certain sexual based convictions and convictions related to vehicle violations may not be expunged. In the case of a conviction of a misdemeanor where there has been no probation granted, the petitioner after a year from the date of judgement also must show that they are living an “honest and upright life.”

Note that an expungement relates to a conviction, as opposed to an arrest and non-conviction (such as a dismissal of the case, acquittal, overturning of a conviction or failure of a prosecutor to file criminal charges).

Where a conviction is not at issue, a request to seal (and destroy) the record may be appropriate. You should seek the assistance of an attorney if you are at all confused about what process is applicable in your circumstances.

What Does It Mean to Expunge Your Record in California?

When you petition for an expungement in California, you are effectively asking the court to vacate your conviction and dismiss your case. If your petition for release is granted, you are considered released from all “penalties and disabilities” with some exceptions.

Expungement in California has the effect of a withdrawal of a guilty plea or having a guilty verdict set aside, but it does not mean that your records will be sealed, destroyed or hidden from the public.

In other words, if the court grants your relief for expungement, it does not hide the fact that you were arrested or that you were charged with a crime. It also does not release you from certain disclosure obligations. Specifically, you are required to reveal the conviction if applying for public office or professional licensure and you are still limited in owning or possessing a firearm.

Do I Need an Attorney to Expunge My Record in California?

If you are seeking an expungement, you may find the assistance of an expungement lawyer helpful, especially in determining if you are eligible for an expungement. If you aren’t sure you’re eligible or don’t know how to get the process started, then contacting a local criminal defense attorney should be your first step.