A criminal charge in California comes with a range of undesirable effects.
Besides doing time, paying court fines, and meeting up with all the daunting legal demands, an arrest, charge, or sentence can ruin one’s reputation for life.
Criminal charges leave a stigma that may negatively affect your access to loans, housing, employment, scholarships and the like.
Thankfully, California state laws allow persons with a criminal history to ‘erase’ their record and start all over on a ‘clean slate.’
The process of getting such dents off one’s record is referred to as expungement.
Read on to find out what California laws say about expungement edibility, the legal processes, and everything else you need to know about dismissing criminal records in California.
What is an Expungement?
In California, expungement refers to a legal process that erases or reduces the effect of certain crimes.
Penal Code 1203.4 PC offers offenders an opportunity to expunge their criminal records after paying their debts in full to society. The payment can be in the form of sentence completion, satisfaction of probation terms, completion of community service, restitution to victim, or/and payment of applicable court fines and charges.
If the court grants an expungement petition, the sentence or guilt plea is set aside, and the case dismissed.
In essence, an expungement primarily removes all restrictions and penalties incurred by a court sentence.
However, while other state laws allow the complete destruction of arrest, charges, trial, and conviction records, it is slightly different in California.
In CA, records are only reopened and modified to show that the case has been set aside “in the interest of justice.” In fact, in California, this legal process is called a ‘Dismissal’ not an ‘expungement’ per se.
Effects of an Expungement
After a successful record expungement, you no longer have to talk about your criminal past during a private-sector job application. Indeed this new development will provide access to a stream of employment opportunities and an avenue to grow your career, just like everyone without an offense on their background check report.
- In fact, any form of discrimination by employers against persons with expunged records is considered criminal.
- An expungement also increases your chances of getting government employment. Both government and private employers are required to treat persons with expunged records as though they were never charged or convicted.
- Expungement gives you access to professional licensure or membership to professional bodies.
- A successful expungement also prevents you from possible deportation and immigration-related consequences. California Code of Regulations 11017.1, or the Penal Code 1203.4, spells out employment rights of a person after the expungement of records.
Felony Expungement Criteria
Typically, persons with criminal records in California can dismiss their records if they meet these criteria:
- Prospective petitioners must have completed all probation terms
- Applicants do not have any other criminal charges
- Applicants committed a misdemeanor – or a felony that can be reduced to a misdemeanor
That said, here are basic conditions that could ruin your chances of getting your records dismissed:
- Charged and sentenced for felony
- Sexual crimes in which a minor was a victim
- Severe driving violations with multiple points.
All applicants who meet these eligibility requirements must as well ensure all court-ordered dues and fines are fully paid.
Also, applicant must have spent up to one year after arrest, before dismissal request.
Applying for an Expungement in California
While you may want to handle the expungement steps on your own, the services of an experienced attorney will help ease the process and increase your chances of getting an approved petition.
However, if you insist on a DIY California expunge felony, then, first, obtain your criminal record copy from a superior court.
Ensure you complete all probation terms – If you have any pending. Also, probation must be completed before requesting for expungement.
However, the court makes provision for early probation termination. You can apply to the court for early termination. If termination is granted, pay up your fees, fines, and restitution, and you’re good to apply for record expungement.
Step to Expunging a Felony Record
Only crimes that can be charged for a misdemeanor are expunge-able. Such misdemeanor offenses are referred as “wobblers.”
Check your sentencing to find out if the charges qualify as ‘wobblers.’ To determine your status, wobbler charges come with a state prison time or not more than a one-year county jail time.
To clear off such convictions, first, submit a petition to the court for a reduction in the charges.
You will have to proof your rehabilitation claims and relate how much you have accepted responsibility for your actions and reintegrate into society. If convincing enough, you will most likely get an expungement.
Expungement of felony conviction usually come in different forms – depending on the particular type of sentencing.
Persons sentenced to jail/county time, and probation, will submit two petitions:
First, the PC 17b petition. This petition asks the court to reduce the charge effect, from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Secondly, you will file the PC 1203.4 petition for a misdemeanor dismissal.
The processes aren’t that tricky. In fact, they are straightforward. Typically, it takes anywhere between 10 to 16 weeks to through the process – timeframe may vary across courts though.
Also, you may only qualify for dismissal only if you have resided for over 5 years in the same county.
You also will not be able to file the regular petitions. Rather, you are required to request a Certificate of Rehabilitation and Pardon.
However, you must be able to convince the court of your rehabilitation and efforts to turn over a new leaf. The judge reserves the right to water down your charges to make a dismissal possible.
Court Filing Fee
Filing costs for filing an expungement petition vary across counties. The forms are to be submitted to the county wherein the sentence was passed.
However, court filing fees across California range from between $120 to $150. Cities like Anaheim may require additional fees.
Indigent applicants may however request a fee waiver.
What will reflect on a background check after a successful expungement?
What shows up on your background check is dependent on the type of check run. If a prospective employer runs a standard check, an expunged record will not reflect on your report.
If a prospective employer asks for fingerprints and a report from the California Department of Justice, your background check report may indicate an expunged case. However, the report will clearly state that the case has been dismissed without any conviction.
What is a Wobbler?
Wobbler is a term used to describe a crime which the judge has the discretion to sentence as a misdemeanor or a felony. To determine a wobbler charge, you need to know the exact crime –in the penal code – that states your conviction.
Must I appear in court during the expungement process?
Not really. However, it depends on your lawyer. Some attorneys may, however, demand the presence of their client in court. Showing up in court shows your willingness to erase your case.
That said, in some special conditions, a judge may demand a defendant’s physical presence in court.
How long does the process take?
A typical expungement process in California takes around two to four months. The time-frame is largely dependent on the court, case, client and surrounding circumstances and on whether there are any objections. Cases with probation, reductions, and violations typically take longer.
Will my expunged case show up in future?
Probably. After a successful conviction, the case can be brought up in future if a related or more severe conviction shows up in future.
How long will it take for an expungement to reflect on my record?
The court issues an expungement order to all concerned authorities to update their database. The court itself updates their records in 48 hours. Although the Department of Justice promises to make updates in 30 days, in most cases, it happens sooner.
Hiring an Expungement Attorney in California
While you can successfully dismiss an offense from your criminal history, an expungement attorney will help simplify the entire process.
Indeed, expunging a felony can be somewhat complex. It is important to follow the processes religiously.
The technicality of the process can be a lot tricky for the initiated, but a cakewalk for an expungement expert.