The expungement of criminal records will erase the information of a past offender that would normally be available on a background check. However, there is no complete erasure of criminal records in California through expungement. Under the state statutes, the expungement process re-opens the criminal case and allows the defendant to enter a plea of not guilty after the withdrawal of the no-contest or guilty plea. The state refers to this process as a dismissal.
Criminal records expungement in California dismisses all penalties and disabilities that may arise from the convictions. Another benefit of this process is that employers, landlords, or creditors will not have access to an individual’s criminal history as a form of qualification. The employment discrimination of applicants with an expunged conviction is illegal in the state.
Expunged convictions can also not be used to discredit the credibility of a witness in court except the prosecution of the witness for a consequent offense.
However, it is obligatory for such persons to disclose their conviction history under the following circumstances:
- If they apply for public office and are asked a direct question related to their conviction.
- If they need to obtain a license from any state or local agency.
- For contracts with the California State Lottery Commission.
Dismissed convictions will not show up in official background checks, but potential employers and other persons can use private information search engines to access them. Although access to California criminal records is limited, data companies may get their hands on them and put them on databases. Expungement cannot prevent this because the process only restricts public access to the conviction details rather than erases it.
Furthermore, the expungement of a conviction does not authorize the ownership or possession of firearms if already prohibited. If the conviction barred the individual from holding a public office, the expungement cannot reverse this consequence. For some offenses like DUIs, the dismissal cannot prevent the conviction from being used as an aggravating factor upon a subsequent offense.
Conditions that qualify a person to request an expungement or dismissal of misdemeanors or felonies include:
- No new pending cases and charges.
- The successful completion of parole or probation for the conviction.
- The person is not currently serving another sentence.
If it occurs that there was a probation violation, the court may still grant an expungement at its discretion. The judge can consider the applicant’s probation performance or evidence showing that the dismissal is in the interest of justice.
Expunging felonies are usually more complicated than misdemeanor convictions. If the offender served time in state prison for a felony, the court can reduce the felony conviction to a misdemeanor under the state statutes. Persons convicted of a felony and served time in a county jail can also apply for expungement after a year has passed after completion of all mandatory supervision.
Some convictions that the court cannot expunge include:
- Possession of child pornography.
- Repeated sexual or lewd acts with a minor younger than 14 years of age
- Oral sex with a minor below 14 years old.
- Sodomy (If the victim is aged 14 years old or younger).
- A misdemeanor for the failure to stop after involvement in an accident.
- Statutory rape, which occurs when sexual intercourse happens between an adult and a minor.
Interested persons can begin a criminal record expungement by petitioning the court in person or through an attorney. An authorized probation officer can also write to the court. The process involves filling out and submitting necessary forms to the appropriate court. The California Judicial Branch site provides self-help resources to get and submit a petition for dismissal forms. Defendants must complete a separate form for each conviction they want to be expunged.
The forms must be filed at the court where the conviction proceeding was heard. The court may charge a fee for the process and also have other requirements. Timely filing and submission of the forms are crucial for applicants to get an early hearing date.
The judge reserves the power to grant or deny an applicant’s petition for dismissal after the hearing. If the petition is denied, the defendants can refile six months after the verdict.