In California, any criminal arrest or conviction record can be a significant obstacle when applying for college, seeking a new job, or leasing an apartment, hindering you from achieving your goals. In the past, only the legal system could access your records; but today, with the proliferation of the internet and hacking, almost anyone with computer skills can access your criminal records and publish them to the public.
Fortunately, there are many ways you can “clear” your criminal or arrest records in such way that they become “invisible” or they are destroyed altogether allowing you to put your past where it belongs: behind you. The processes involved can be quite complex and time-consuming, hence the need for a skilled attorney with experience in record sealing. At the Clear My Records, we have in-depth knowledge and experience helping people just like you take advantage of the laws related to clearing various types of records. Before you decide your case is hopeless, let us take a look for any and every way possible to clear your record and set you on a path to a brighter – record free – future.
Benefits of Record Clearing
You were younger and not nearly as wise as you are today, so you made a mistake – that’s what young people do. Now, though, that silly mistake of your youth; the mistake made by a version of you that no longer exists, continues to haunt you on every job application or license application or background check. You learned your lesson and paid for your transgression, why should it continue to be a barrier to a better future? It shouldn’t.
Thankfully, California law has a variety of possible options for softening the look of your past or erasing it altogether by clearing or sealing an arrest or conviction record. At Clear My Records, we will carefully analyze every aspect of your unique case and circumstances in search of the best options for you and we will lead the way through the confusing procedures required for taking advantage of them.
When it is all said and done, record clearing can make it much easier for you to get that new job or promotion because employers will not find a criminal or arrest record when conducting background checks. In certain specific cases, hiding or clearing your arrest or criminal history can also eliminate your felony status if you had been previously convicted of a felony, making it easier to travel or when applying for an apartment lease.
Other benefits associated with record clearing include:
Enhanced eligibility for college loans
Opening access to college or grad school admission that would be otherwise closed to individuals with criminal records
Eases restrictions associated with acquiring state-issued professional licenses
Peace of mind
Just knowing that a criminal record has been modified or cleared or destroyed can relieve stress and free you of the burden that, for many, interferes with living healthy life. For many, the peace of mind is enough.
Of course, modifying or clearing or completely eliminating criminal entanglements does not just happen at the snap of a finger or stroke of a pen. An attorney who knows the ins and outs of criminal records will be your best ally in this fight. A record clearing attorney will take the workload from you and make sure the process is done right the first time; he or she will make sure your case does not fall victim to the various traps and pitfalls that confuse and discourage non-lawyers who try to do it one their own. If you want to win, you need the right team.
Your record clearing attorney will know the different methods of “clearing” records of criminal entanglements. They are very different, and it will be essential to understand what options are available in your specific case – and which options are not.
Expungement of Criminal Convictions
The first, most common, form of dealing with old criminal records we will discuss in this article is what most people call “expungement.” While relief under California PC §1203.4 is generally referred to as “expungement,” that’s not technically what it is. The word “expungement” means to remove or erase something completely and that is not what PC §1203.4 does. What is does, however, is the next best thing. When a petition for relief under PC §1203.4 is granted, the defendant effectively withdraws the plea of guilty or no contest and enters, in its place, a plea of not guilty. The Court, in response, dismisses the case.
Relief under PC §1203.4 may be granted under any of the following circumstances:
Defendant has met the terms and conditions of probation and has completed the entire duration of probation, or
Defendant has been discharged before the period of probation is over, or
In a situation where a Court determines in its discretion that the “interest of justice” would be served by granting relief
When relief is granted, all the punishments and disabilities stemming from the conviction will be set aside once the case is dismissed.
It is very important to understand that, even when the case has been dismissed under PC §1203.4, the matter remains on your record and can be visible to individuals and entities that runs subsequent background checks. Moreover, even when the case has been dismissed under PC §1203.4, the underlying offense may still be used to enhance penalties for offenses committed later. Although the case is “dismissed,” it is not sealed.
Individuals Eligible for Relief Under PC §1203.4 in California
Although relief under PC §1203.4 is available under the law, it has many limitations, and not everyone with a criminal arrest or sentence can qualify for it. For example, if you were sentenced to serve time in state prison or to a state prison term in county jail, you will not be eligible for relief under PC §1203.4. Your record clearing attorney will be able to guide you.
The following are conditions under which a defendant will not be eligible to have a petition for relief under PC §1203.4 granted:
Defendant did NOT complete formal or informal probation in its entirety
Defendant served any prison sentence – whether in prison or county jail – that would not have been modified by Prop 47
Defendant is currently serving jail or prison time for any offense
Defendant is currently on probation for a crime
Defendant is currently charged with committing any subsequent crime
Defendant failed to complete all the sentencing elements like court fines, probation, and restitution.
Defendant’s case was heard in federal court.
One is deemed to have “successfully” completed probation if he or she fulfilled all the terms of probation, and personally or through an attorney, attended all court appearances and didn’t engage in the commission of any criminal activity while on probation.
You should also understand that it’s not mandatory to wait for years or months until you complete your probation. You can file for early termination, and if the petition is granted, you can commence the “expungement” process right away.
Effects of relief under PC §1203.4 & PC §1203.4a (commonly referred to as “expungement”)
Having a criminal conviction or arrest record erased or hidden can have significant effects. Some of the things an “expungement” will do include:
Lead to a new entry in the court indicating the case has been dismissed.
Allow you to legally say you have never been sentenced for the offense to your employers or during a job, lease, or college application. However, you should note that during the application for government jobs, the conviction will be discovered.
Prevents your conviction for a specific crime from being used to impeach you when testifying in court.
Please understand that and “expungement” as we are discussing here, is NOT the same as a pardon. A pardon granted by the Governor completely erases the crime, the convictions, and the lingering consequences. “Expungement,” on the other hand, merely alters the character of the disposition from convicted to dismissed for various, but limited, purposes.
Accomplishing “Expungement” Under PC §1203.4
Can you do it yourself? Yes. Is that advisable, probably not.
The petition for relief under PC 1203.4 is fairly straight forward if you have all of the information and know how to include it. However, a simple error in the paperwork can cause the Court to deny it and the process will have to start all over again. Worse yet, the Court may not tell you what the error was, leaving you to figure it out alone. If you have multiple cases for which you are seeking relief, multiply the headaches by that number. Hiring an attorney to handle the “expungement” will eliminate those headaches and assure the documents are filled out correctly the first time. Simply put, a lawyer will save you headaches and time.
Completing the petition is only the first step. After the documents are completed, they must be served on the prosecuting agency before they are filed with the court; service must be done in compliance with state law and procedure and a proof of service declaration must be filed under penalty of perjury. More headaches and more time a lawyer will save you. Of course, there may be filing fees required.
Once properly filed, the bench officer to whom it is assigned will evaluate it, review the case, and consider any argument or objection presented by the prosecutor. In some cases, there will be a hearing in open court so both sides can argue why relief should or should not be granted.
Generally, PC §1203.4 petitions are returned – granted or denied – within about 6-8 weeks from the time of filing. Many courts are experiencing considerable backlogs, so wait times may vary.
PC §1203.4 relief for felony convictions may require more attention. Your records clearing attorney will confirm whether the felony conviction may be reduced to a misdemeanor before it is dismissed.
Even if perfectly drafted and properly served, the §1203.4 relief petition, alone, does not guarantee success. In certain cases, the prosecuting agency will file their own objection to the relief for the bench officer to consider. In many of those cases, the bench officer will want to hear argument from both sides, which means there will be a hearing in open court – a hearing for which your record clearing attorney will be ready.
Adult Arrest Record Sealing
Not every arrest leads to formal criminal charges or a criminal conviction. There are plenty of cases where the prosecuting agency reviews the arrest report and determines that either no crime was committed or that the crime alleged cannot [likely] be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. In the cases where no crime was committed, the prosecuting agency will reject prosecution altogether. In cases where the evidence is or appears to be insufficient, the prosecuting agency may send the arrest report back to law enforcement for “further investigation.” For cases that are returned for “further investigation,” the statute of limitations clock continues to tick. For misdemeanors, prosecuting agencies have up to one year to file criminal charges. If they don’t file criminal charges within a year, misdemeanor charges ca never be filed in the case. For most felonies, prosecutors have three years to file. For some felonies, charges can be filed for several years or, as is the case with murder, the right to file felony charges never extinguishes.
Previously, when one was arrested, even if charges were never filed, the arrest record remained a visible scar forever. Not anymore. In 2017, the California legislature realized that the records were haunting some people who were arrested for specific offenses but were never charged. For this reason, a law was enacted, giving people the right to seal particular arrest records.
Three years after sealing of the arrest record, it is destroyed – not to be found by most employers, schools, or lenders. However, law enforcement and prosecutors can access these arrest records in the event of a future criminal charge.
The Criteria Candidates must meet to Qualify for Adult Arrest Record Sealing
Not every adult with an arrest record is qualified for arrest record sealing. You are only eligible if:
After the arrest, no charges were filed against you
Charges were filed, but you were not convicted
Your conviction was overturned by a court of appeal
The charges were dismissed
Juvenile Arrest Record Sealing
California WIC §781 offers relief for juvenile arrest records. Everyone can agree that, in too many cases, it is unfair for an arrest that occurred when you were underage to haunt you as an adult.
Requirements for juvenile record sealing include, but are not limited to:
You must have been released from juvenile court jurisdiction for not less than five years or be an adult.
You didn’t sustain a conviction for a moral turpitude offense.
You have no adult criminal or arrest records.
The court believes you to be rehabilitated.
You have zero pending criminal or civil charges.
After filing the petition, receiving a finding from a juvenile court will take some time, but it will be worth it. During this period, a special hearing may be held where your attorney argues to the court how and why you meet the set criteria for arrest record sealing. Of course, you can expect the DA to oppose your petition, so your lawyer should be ready for that.
Certificate of Rehabilitation and Pardon
Serious felonies, felonies for which you were sentenced to state prison, or specific misdemeanors might not be eligible for relief under PC §1203.4. Nevertheless, a “certificate of rehabilitation” (COR) could be an available remedy to clear your record as best as possible.
Although a COR will not clear your record, when running background checks on your criminal record, the employer will see the certificate of rehabilitation and take it into consideration. Simply put, it’s a better look than a conviction alone. It shows that you have truly worked hard to put the past behind you.
Similarly, with the COR, you can qualify for various state-issued professional licenses despite having a criminal record. In case you have lost some civil rights like possession or ownership of a firearm, the certificate of rehabilitation can help in the process of restoring those rights. Best of all, a granted COR automatically puts you in line for a governor’s pardon.
Qualifying for a COR requires several things. First, you must have completed your prison or jail sentence and subsequent parole or probation. Likewise, you must have continued living in California for a period of time. Most of all, you CANNOT have a pending criminal charge.
In certain incidents where you aren’t eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation, you can still go ahead and apply for a pardon, although the process is unique and complex, and can be very costly. You will need an attorney who specifically handles pardons.
Find a Record Sealing Law Firm Near Me
At the Clear My Records, we have been proud to help Californians win various types of records clearing legal actions since 2008. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your criminal conviction or arrest, our attorneys are ready to help and guide you through the process of a petition for relief until the end. You have questions, we have answers. Schedule an initial consultation to discuss your convictions in California. Why wait? Contact us today.