The negative impact of a criminal record goes beyond the loss of freedom when you are incarcerated. The ripple effects can be felt later when applying for jobs. Record expungement offers relief from these negative effects and allows you to move on without carrying the burden of your past crimes. This blog will explore tips on how to expunge a criminal record.
When Can You Expunge a Criminal Record?
California Penal Code 1203.4 PC allows a defendant to reenter a not-guilty plea after which their case is dismissed. A record expungement frees you from the negative impact of a conviction on your record.
With an expunged record, you are freed from the need to disclose a criminal conviction for jobs, including conditional employment. It also makes it easier to join professional organizations and obtain a professional license.
Not all crimes, however, can be expunged. You must meet the requirements for expungement for you to clear your criminal record. They include:
- Fulfilling all the requirements and conditions of probation for the offense. This means that you have cleared all the fines, and restitution, completed community service, and counseling programs, and attended all your court appearances. It also means not committing any new crimes while on probation.
- You were not incarcerated in state prison for the crime
- If you served time in state prison, but the offense would have been eligible for incarceration in county jail under proposition 47
Some circumstances may also lock you out of record expungement. They include:
- You are currently imprisoned or are on probation for a crime
- You are currently charged with a crime
- You were sentenced for a sex crime against a child. Felony offenses such as sodomy with a child, lewd acts with a child, and statutory rape cannot be expunged
How To Expunge a Criminal Record
If you are eligible for the expungement of a criminal record, the following are the next steps you should take:
1. Work with a Record Expungement Attorney
While you can handle an expungement process independently, you have better chances of success when working with a record expungement attorney. Expunging a record involves filling out paperwork in compliance with the relevant statutes.
An attorney will help you identify and fill out the necessary paperwork, ensuring that you file complete documents with the court.
An attorney can also help pinpoint potential issues that may hinder your application for an expungement and take the steps to deal with them.
2. Obtain Copies of Your Criminal Records
An expungement is based on a criminal conviction that you already have. This means that you must obtain all the records associated with that crime. These records include the court papers you received upon conviction and records from your probation officer.
You can ask your attorney for help obtaining and gathering the relevant copies of your criminal records.
If you choose to obtain them yourself, you should visit the California Office of Attorney General or the California State Department of Justice Criminal Record Review Unit. Note, that you might have to pay a fee to obtain these records.
The importance of obtaining your criminal records is that they provide details about:
- The case number
- The verdict
- The plea you entered
- The details of sentencing, including where you were sentenced, the release date, and any probation or parole requirements
Note: you need to obtain the copies of each criminal record for which you are requesting expungement.
3. Verify that You Qualify for an Expungement
Your eligibility for expungement is a significant determinant of whether your petition passes or not. Therefore, once you obtain your court records, you must ensure that you qualify for expungement. Sometimes, you might qualify directly for an expungement if you were convicted of an offense and did not serve time in state prison.
For instance, if you are still on probation, you must petition for early termination of probation before proceeding to expunge your records. If you were convicted of a wobbler offense (one that can be convicted as a misdemeanor or a felony) as a felony, you must file a petition for the reduction of the felony offense to a lesser charge.
In other cases, you are ineligible for a record expungement. In such a case, you can explore other alternatives such as obtaining a certificate of rehabilitation or pardon.
Verifying your eligibility for a record expungement also means ascertaining that the offense you were convicted for does not fall under the specific circumstances that are ineligible for expungement. These include sexual crimes committed against a child.
4. Fill Out the Necessary Paperwork
You need to fill out different forms when expunging a misdemeanor or a felony. If you are expunging a misdemeanor, you need to fill out the paperwork for dismissing a misdemeanor. To expunge a felony, you must first file a petition to have the offense reduced to a lesser misdemeanor charge before proceeding with the expungement process.
In cases where you are still on probation, request for early termination of your probation sentence before proceeding with the expungement.
If you are working with a record expungement attorney, they will guide you on the relevant paperwork you need to file – making the process a little less intimidating for you. They ensure that you have provided all the necessary information for a successful expungement process.
5. File for an Expungement
The next step after filling out the necessary paperwork is filing the paperwork with the relevant court – usually, the court where your case was heard.
Different courts have different rules and policies surrounding paperwork and timelines. Therefore, you must be aware of these to increase the possibility of your petition being heard. Other regulations may include:
- Payment of a fee
- Mailing or hand delivery of the petition
Note: courts may provide financial assistance to defendants who cannot afford the fees. However, you must provide proof of income to obtain financial assistance to cover the filing fees.
6. Prepare for the Expungement Hearing
Depending on your case, you may need to attend the expungement hearing. However, you must meet up with your record expungement attorney to prepare for the hearing. The attorney will guide you through what to expect in court, including how to defend your petition in court. You also need to prepare a statement that you will present during the hearing.
On the day of the expungement, you will appear before a judge to defend your petition. An expungement hearing does not include a jury. Ensure that you arrive at the courthouse on time and behave accordingly.
During the expungement hearing, the court seeks to establish:
- The charges
- Your probation status
- Any additional convictions you might have
- Whether you can find and maintain a job
- Whether you are involved with the community
Defendants who demonstrate an ability to hold down a job, remain out of trouble with the law, and are actively engaged in their local communities have better chances of having their records expunged.
Once your record is expunged, seal your records to ensure they are not visible to the public any longer.
7. Refile if Necessary
In some cases, the judge may deny a petition for expungement. When this happens, wait six months to file another petition for expungement.
Alternatives to Record Expungement
For defendants who are ineligible for a records expungement, you have other options that can help you clear your criminal record and get a fresh start. In California, this includes sealing your records, obtaining a governor's pardon, and obtaining a certificate of rehabilitation.
What is a Certificate of Rehabilitation?
Following a criminal conviction, a defendant can obtain post-conviction relief through a certificate of rehabilitation. This certificate makes it easier to get a job, obtain professional licensing, and, depending on the offense, the end of a defendant's duty to register as a sex offender.
A certificate of rehabilitation is available to defendants who:
- Have a prior felony conviction and served their sentence in a state prison
- Have a felony conviction, were sentenced to probation, and have had the record expunged
- Were convicted of a misdemeanor sex offense under PC 290 and have had their conviction expunged
- Have resided in California for a minimum of 5 years and been rehabilitated for between two to five years following their release from custody, probation, or parole
- You haven’t been imprisoned since the end of your sentence
- You are not currently on felony probation
Note: the rehabilitation periods differ depending on the nature of the offense you commuted. For example, for those who committed serious crimes that carry a life sentence, the rehabilitation period is nine years and an additional four years of residency in California.
One key difference between a certificate of rehabilitation and a record expungement is that with the certificate of rehabilitation, your criminal record remains. However, the certificate of rehabilitation shows that you are now a law-abiding citizen.
People sentenced to death, serving mandatory life parole, or those in the military are not eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation. In some cases, the court will decline to issue a certificate of rehabilitation for defendants who committed an eligible sex crime if they still pose a threat to minors.
There are also limitations to what a certificate of rehabilitation can do. Crimes such as these listed below are ineligible for a certificate of rehabilitation:
- Sexual assault of a child
- Child molestation
- Continuous sexual abuse of a child
- A sexual act with a child aged under ten
- Felony sodomy by force
- Sodomy with a child
- Human trafficking of a child
- Some rape or sexual assault convictions
- Felony sexual battery
- Kidnapping with the intent to commit rape, lewd acts with a child, sodomy, or sexual penetration with an object
- Assault with the intent to commit a sex crime
Defendants convicted of the above crimes can only obtain relief through a full pardon by the Governor of California. Applying for a certificate of rehabilitation is also considered an application for the governor's pardon.
The Governor's Pardon
The governor's pardon is a form of post-conviction relief accorded to defendants who demonstrate a high level of rehabilitation. Obtaining a governor's pardon:
- Restores your firearm rights
- Relieves you of your duty to register as a California sex offender
- Makes it easier to obtain employment
- Restores your right to serve on a California jury
- Makes it possible to be employed as probation or state parole officers
- Makes it easier to obtain state professional licensing
- Prevents the impeachment of your credibility as a witness based on the pardoned conviction
- It prevents the deportation of immigrants legally residing in California
Sealing Arrest Records
If you were arrested for an offense but were never convicted or the court vacated the conviction in an appeal, you can seal and destroy your arrest records.
Sealing and destroying records means your criminal record won't appear on most background checks. The State of California and criminal justice agencies can still access the records for limited use).
Sealing and destroying arrest records is available to defendants who:
- Were not charged with a crime after an arrest
- Had their case dismissed
- Were found not guilty or acquitted
- Had their conviction vacated in an appeal
- Successfully completed a pre-trial diversion or pre-sentencing program
Juvenile offenders are also allowed to seal and destroy their records if:
- They are aged at least 18 years, and five years have passed since the termination of the juvenile court's jurisdiction
- They do not have a conviction for a crime of moral turpitude as an adult
- The original crime was not a serious offense, for example, murder, committed after the defendant was 14
Find a Los Angeles Record Expungement Attorney Near Me
Having a criminal record should not follow you throughout your life. For eligible misdemeanors and felonies, expungement is an alternative to carrying a criminal record. It allows you to access job opportunities you would be locked out of due to your criminal conviction. Working with a record expungement attorney can make the process much easier as you will fill out the right paperwork and submit it within the right timeline. Record Expungement Attorney works with defendants who want to clear their criminal records in Los Angeles to help them file the necessary paperwork and appear for the expungement hearing. We also advise on the possible alternatives you can explore to clear your record. For more assistance, contact us at 424-286-1516.