Expungement of a criminal record in California can improve your chance of getting a job, qualifying for specific aid programs, and regaining some civil rights. With the enactment of the Clean Slate Act, the state made it easier for many people to clean their criminal records. Let’s examine both ways you can expunge a criminal conviction in California.
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What Is Expungement in California?
Before we discuss the expungement process, it helps to understand what California means by “expungement” of a criminal conviction.
To “expunge” means to obliterate, destroy, or strike out records and information from files and computer records. The expungement laws and process vary by state.
In some states, expunging a criminal conviction wipes it entirely from the system. Anyone searching the records would not see that you were arrested, much less convicted of a crime. However, that is not the case in California.
In California, expungement is the process of “cleaning your record.” Instead of wiping away the arrest and conviction, expungement only clears the guilty verdict from your criminal record. The criminal charge remains on your arrest record.
If the judge grants an expungement, your guilty verdict or guilty plea is changed to “not guilty” on the record. The judge then dismisses the case.
Therefore, it appears that you were arrested but not found guilty of the crime. The arrest is not erased, but is “cleaned” by dismissing the charges. Therefore, you can honestly answer a question on an employment application or other document that you were never “convicted” of the crime.
What Is the California Clean Slate Act?
In October 2019, the state streamlined the process of expunging some criminal records by passing the Clean Slate Act. Assembly Bill 1076 established an automatic expungement process for most misdemeanor convictions and many non-violent felony convictions.
The eligibility requirements for the automatic expungement relief are:
- You completed probation without any probation violations on record
- You’re not currently facing any criminal charges
- There’s no requirement to register as a sex offender
- You’re not currently on parole or probation for another criminal charge
The criminal offense in question cannot be an offense that is excluded from the list of eligible offenses for expungement. AB 1076 provides for sealing arrest records for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies that did not result in an arrest and the sealing of expunged convictions.
Sealing records is an additional step in cleaning your criminal records that benefits you. The clerk of court cannot release your expunged criminal history to a private enterprise or private individual.
The other good part of the Clean Slate Act is that it is free. The automatic process does not cost you anything. Therefore, it removes the financial burden of expunging records many people could not afford.
The process is codified under California Penal Code §851.93. The California Department of Justice reviews the criminal justice databases for the entire state each month. It identifies persons who qualify for automatic expungement.
If you are eligible for relief, you do not need to file a petition or other form with the court. The DOJ notifies the court of your eligibility so it can consider expungement.
Convictions Before January 1, 2021 Require an Expungement Petition
If you were convicted before January 1, 2021, you must go through the expungement process under California Penal Code §1203.4 to “set aside” the conviction or guilty plea. It is important to note that expungement through this process does not result in the sealing of records.
You could be eligible for expungement if you meet all the following requirements:
- A state court entered your guilty plea or guilty verdict
- You did not serve time in state prison for the offense
- It has been at least one year since your criminal conviction (if the judge did not sentence you to serve probation)
- You completed probation, including all terms and conditions, such as community service, paying fines, attending treatment programs, paying restitution, etc.
- You did not have any probation violations on your record
- You are not currently on probation, charged with, or serving time for another crime
Some criminal offenses do not qualify for expungement. If you are unsure about your criminal charges, check with our San Diego criminal defense lawyers. You do not want to pay the fees and go through the process only to discover your criminal charge is not eligible for expungement.
What Happens At an Expungement Hearing?
The court sets a hearing date when you file your petition for expungement. If you hire a lawyer, your attorney will appear at the hearing with you. The hearing is your opportunity to present evidence to the judge to prove that you deserve to have your conviction set aside.
Your attorney will point out reasons why you deserve an expungement, such as:
- You completed probation without any probation violations
- The expungement allows you to seek employment
- You cooperated throughout the case and accepted your punishment
- You are now able to receive student loans to attend college
- You meet all requirements for having your criminal offense expunged
- You can obtain a professional license and/or advance in your career
Your San Diego criminal defense lawyer will argue that you have moved forward after the criminal conviction. You have worked hard to overcome the consequences of the conviction to improve your life. The expungement will help you continue to move forward in a positive direction.
Can I Have My Criminal Conviction Expunged Before I Complete Probation in California?
Probation can last for several years. Therefore, it could be some time before you can petition for expungement. However, there are certain situations where a judge might grant early expungement of your criminal record.
You might be able to expunge a criminal record if you:
- Completed all the terms and conditions of your probation; and,
- The judge finds that your situation’s circumstances justify early probation termination.
For example, probation could prevent you from traveling for work or visiting with your children. In addition, probation could prevent you from caring for your family, attending college, or starting a new career.
The judge might find that these reasons justify terminating your probation early. If so, you could petition the court to expunge the criminal conviction.
Schedule a Free Consultation With a San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer to Discuss the Expungement of Your Criminal Record
Cleaning your criminal record could positively affect many areas of your life. Contact a San Diego criminal defense attorney for a free consultation to find out how to clear your criminal history so you can move forward with your life or call us at (619) 357-4977. The criminal defense attorneys at Blair Defense Criminal Lawyers will be happy to help you.