After fully completing court-imposed sanctions, the penalty for even a relatively minor criminal offense can still sometimes seem like a life sentence. Why? Anyone with a less-than-spotless past must constantly face the specter of their criminal record being drudged to the surface, potentially impacting their job prospects, the availability of rental property and even their ability travel to a foreign country as innocuous as Canada.
Fortunately, with the help of an expungement attorney, California residents may be able to take advantage of several legal options to clear their criminal records. A clean record can help you move on from mistakes in your past – and it will pay dividends in your future.
The Semantics of Expungement
Expungement is a legal process through which an arrest or conviction may be erased from an individual’s criminal record. When used as a legal term of art, expungement technically does not exist under California law. Yet, there are several ways Californians may be able to keep their records from coming back to haunt them, and these may sometimes be referred to colloquially as “expungement.”
Sealing the Records for Your Juvenile Conviction
Record sealing is a sister to expungement; in California, it comes into play in the context of juvenile records. Documentation of offenses committed as a juvenile will normally appear on your criminal record. However, as of your 18th birthday, you become eligible to petition for the sealing of your juvenile records.
It is important to note that juvenile records are not automatically sealed on your 18th birthday; rather, you must file a form, along with any required supplemental documentation, with the juvenile court in the county where you were convicted. After your records are sealed, no one can gain access to them and they will be destroyed altogether five years after the date of sealing.
Dismissal: An Important Form of California Expungement
Perhaps the most common incarnation of expungement in California is the dismissal. Cleaning your record through dismissal may be possible if you were convicted of any infraction or misdemeanor, or a felony for which you were not sentenced to state prison or put under the authority of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Like the sealing of juvenile records, a dismissal is obtained by petitioning the sentencing court.
For certain offenses, the court is generally required to dismiss your conviction if:
• You successfully completed probation (or, if you never received probation, if it has been more than one year since the conviction and you have lived an “honest and upright life” since);
• You complied with all terms of your sentence; and
• You are not currently charged with another offense or in the midst of serving a sentence for another offense
The court has discretion (in other words, a choice) to grant you a dismissal if you did not fulfill all the conditions of probation, or were convicted of any offense listed in section 12810(a) to (e) of the Vehicle Code, if you have paid all the fines, restitution and reimbursements orders by the court and you are not currently charged with or serving a sentence for some other offense. Since the court’s decision is discretionary in these circumstances, it is especially important to present a strong argument as to why your conviction should be dismissed.
If your petition for dismissal is denied, do not lose hope. You can try to find out from the courthouse clerk why the petition was denied, and you might be able to fix the problem and re-file.
You may be wondering what, exactly, a dismissal means. If you obtain a dismissal, the matter will not be completely erased from your records. But, you will no longer be considered to have been convicted of the offense; your records will be modified to show a dismissal instead of a conviction. This can be advantageous in a number of ways; for instance, a prospective employer cannot ask about, or consider in making a hiring decision, any arrest or detention that did not end in a conviction.
More Serious Convictions? A Pardon Could be Right for You
Some convictions are not eligible for dismissal, namely those for which you were sentenced to state prison or sentenced under the authority of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. But, for many of these convictions, a pardon may still be a viable option.
The first step toward obtaining a pardon for most convictions is obtaining a Certificate of Rehabilitation from the superior court in the county in which you reside (a direct pardon application can be made to the Governor’s Office by those not eligible for a Certificate of Rehabilitation, such as those who now reside out-of-state or those convicted of certain sex offenses). A Certificate of Rehabilitation is a court order that declares a person convicted of a felony is now rehabilitated; obtaining one can be a lengthy and complex process, and successful applicants will have to effectively demonstrate to the court how they have been rehabilitated.
If you are granted a Certificate of Rehabilitation, the court forwards it to the Governor – it serves as your application for a pardon. Just because you obtain a Certificate of Rehabilitation does not mean you will necessarily be pardoned by the Governor: the Governor has complete discretion in deciding whether or not to grant a pardon.
A pardon does not seal or expunge your record of conviction; instead, it also becomes a public record. After receiving a pardon, when you are asked if you have been convicted, you must answer in the affirmative – but should add that you have since been pardoned. Yet, beyond personal satisfaction, a pardon has several tangible benefits, including positive implications for licensing, bonding and other employment purposes, possible restoration of the right to own a firearm, and a restored ability to serve on a jury (even something as sweet as a pardon comes with a little vinegar).
Clearing Your California Criminal Records
Clearing your good name can be a trying process. But, with the right help, you can start on the path to a brighter future. Get in touch with a qualified California criminal attorney today to get the ball rolling on your expungement, record sealing, dismissal or pardon. Contact our record clearance experts today to schedule a free consultation.Back to Expungement Practice Area