In California expungement is the process of reopening your criminal proceeding and reversing the conviction to a dismissal. This allows you to truthfully state you have not been convicted of a crime. Expungement implies a nullified conviction as if it never happened, which is not available in this state.
Sealing and expungement of a criminal record are often mistaken as the same thing. In sealing of records, the criminal record is hidden from the public but still on record. With true expungement the record is destroyed. In effect, only record sealing is available in California (even though it is commonly called expungement) and each separate offense must be applied for.
Some states allow unsealing of records in certain circumstances. If the petitioner is convicted of the same crime after expungement or sealing the ruling may be reversed and the information will be publicly available once again. Expungement, as it is called in California, will not remove the criminal record. It shows the case as dismissed and no guilt is found.
If you have been convicted of an infraction you may be eligible for expungement if you meet certain criteria:
- You were convicted in state court. Federal convictions are not available for expungement.
- You did not go to state prison—you might be eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation and expungement.
- You have completed probation or you obtain early termination of probation through petition.
- You have satisfied all the sentence requirements like community service and classes.
- You are not charged with another criminal offense.
In some states, expungement is not allowed for serious felonies. California does not allow expungement for offenses involving sexual offenses against children, murder, and kidnapping. Expungement will not apply, and may be reversed, in cases where the offense is repeated. If your offense relates to gun violence, you will never be allowed a gun permit and cannot become a police officer.
You must disclose your expunged conviction if you are running for public office, contracting with the California Lottery Commission, or applying for a state license of any kind.
You can file for expungement on your own, but an attorney is invaluable to ensure the process is completed properly and your records are successfully expunged. You will need to fill out a form and provide personal and case details.
If you do not have access to the information, or cannot recall the details, the court in the county where you were charged can provide information.
The form to request a record sealing or expungement is available online at the California Courts website.
The legal process involves:
- Filling out and filing the paperwork for expungement. Filing fees may apply.
- The court will send the paperwork to the prosecutor’s office for verification of eligibility.
- If eligible, the prosecutor will send the forms back to you.
- You may need to attend expungement hearings.
If your petition is granted, the records will be expunged. In California, that means the record will be noted by the court to reflect the overturned conviction.
In California, you may also seek a pardon or clemency. A pardon forgives the offense but the record remains, while clemency reduces criminal penalties but does not clear your criminal record. These options for relief may be desirable when applying for work, getting a loan, or seeking employment.
A Certificate of Rehabilitation does not remove the negative aspects of the criminal record, but notes that nothing negative has happened recently and some rights may be restored. You are only eligible for the certificate seven years after release from prison or court supervision.
An Attorney Can Help
Petitioning the court for expungement is an intricate process. Speak with an attorney to be sure your rights are represented.