Eligibility for Expungement in California: Know Your Options
Expungement is a legal process that can profoundly impact someone's life. It allows individuals to clean their criminal record, giving them a fresh start and a chance to rebuild their future.
However, it's essential to recognize that expungement is not available to everyone. California has specific criteria that must be satisfied to qualify for expungement. Individuals may be confused or unaware of their options without a clear understanding of these requirements.
By delving into California's eligibility requirements for expungement, we aim to empower individuals with knowledge. Knowing whether one is eligible for expungement allows individuals to take the necessary steps to clean their criminal record and regain control over their lives. It's about taking charge of one's future and leaving behind the mistakes of the past.
Expungement in California: An Overview
Expungement is a legal process that can clean a criminal record and limit access to information about an arrest or conviction. In California, an expungement releases individuals "from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense" they were convicted of.
Key distinctions exist between expungement and record cleaning. Expungement implies erasing a criminal case, but California doesn't technically expunge records. Instead, the state dismisses a case when qualifying criteria are met. When someone is granted expungement, the court re-opens the case, changes the guilty plea or finding to not guilty, and dismisses the case. However, the case itself is not entirely erased.
By dismissing a case, California allows individuals to move forward without the burden of a criminal conviction. While the matter may still exist in the court's records, it is considered dismissed for most purposes, which can significantly impact a person's life.
A few of the benefits of an expungement include:
- A dismissal instead of a conviction on a criminal record
- Pathways to opportunities that were previously closed off because of a conviction
- The ability to legally say that the individual was not convicted of the expunged offense
Eligibility for Expungement: Misdemeanors
The eligibility requirements determine whether a person meets the conditions to pursue expungement and clean up a misdemeanor conviction.
The criteria for a misdemeanor expungement include the following:
- Completion of probation: The individual must have completed the probationary period. If the individual is currently on probation, they must ask the court for early termination before applying for expungement. If the individual did not get probation, they must wait one year before submitting a petition to have their case dismissed.
- Not currently serving a sentence: The individual cannot be on probation or parole or be serving a jail or prison term at the time of their expungement request.
- Absence of new criminal charges or convictions: The individual must not have any pending cases or additional convictions since the misdemeanor offense sought to be expunged.
- Compliance with court orders: The individual must have satisfied all court-ordered terms and conditions, such as attending counseling or rehabilitation programs, performing community service, and fulfilling financial obligations like fines, fees, and restitution.
Eligibility for Expungement: Felonies
Initially, the criteria for felony expungement are like those for misdemeanor expungement. The individual must have completed the probationary period. Additionally, they must have been crime-free since the previous conviction, meaning they are not currently on probation or parole and do not have any new cases pending.
How the individual goes about cleaning a felony record depends on the situation:
- Sentenced to probation or county jail: If the individual were given a term of probation or time in county jail for a felony conviction, the court could dismiss their case. If the offense were a wobbler, meaning it could have been charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, the individual could ask for a charge reduction and a dismissal.
- Sentenced to county jail with or without mandatory supervision: If the individual were given a county jail term and mandatory supervision, they must wait one year after their conviction to petition for a dismissal. If they did not get mandatory supervision, they must wait two years after their conviction to apply.
- Sentenced to state prison: If the individual were sentenced to state prison, they could ask for expungement only if the offense they were convicted of is now punishable by a county jail sentence because of a change in the law.
Exceptions and Disqualifications for Felony Expungement
While expungement offers a fresh start to some individuals with felony convictions, this form of relief is not available in all situations.
A person is ineligible for felony expungement if either of the following applies:
- Sentenced to state prison: If the court ordered the individual to time in state prison and the law has not changed allowing for a county jail sentence for the offense, the individual cannot clean their felony record.
- Convicted of serious crimes: Individuals who committed serious sex crimes or other severe offenses are not eligible for expungement.
Awareness of these exceptions allows individuals to assess their situation and determine whether they meet eligibility criteria. Because of the complexities of the law, it’s often beneficial to consult an attorney when considering legal options.
The Expungement Process in California
Seeking expungement requires several critical steps. Understanding the process helps individuals navigate it effectively.
Key actions to take when cleaning a criminal record include the following:
- Speak with a criminal defense lawyer: An attorney can be a significant benefit. They can provide guidance, help gather the required documents, and ensure the petition is completed correctly.
- Gather details about the offense: This consists of the case number, conviction or arrest date, the specific code section violated, and the county of arrest or conviction. These details are crucial when preparing the petition and ensuring accuracy.
- File the paperwork: The next step is to file a petition for expungement with the appropriate court. Along with the petition, the individual can submit supporting documents explaining why the case should be dismissed.
After the individual has filed their petition, the court will review the case and decide. The judge will carefully consider the facts, supporting documents, and overall circumstances. They can grant or deny the expungement and will evaluate whether doing so is in the interest of justice.
Speak with an Attorney About Your Case
If you have a criminal record that is hindering your opportunities, you may be able to seek relief through expungement. A lawyer can help assess your situation and determine whether you meet eligibility requirements. They can also assist throughout the process by ensuring that you complete and submit the necessary paperwork.
Learn more about your legal options in Santa Rosa by contacting the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. at (707) 418-5352.