Expungement 101: How to Clear Criminal Records

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We all make mistakes, although the errors in judgment some of us commit tend to be greater and can even be considered criminal. A conviction can permanently affect your life in a negative way, which is why it’s important to know that the expungement of your criminal records is an option.

Is expungement going to be some magical salve you can use to get rid of all the problems that you’ve had to deal with post-conviction? It most likely won’t be, but still, pursuing it is a good move if you want to enjoy something that more closely resembles a normal life.

There’s a lot of confusion regarding what expungement can do, and people also have questions about how they can petition for it. Let’s answer those questions and many more in this article.

What Is Expungement?

When used in the context of legal matters, people often think that expungement is a process that can completely wipe your criminal history clean and make it appear brand new. Expungement doesn’t work that way, however.

Instead, what it effectively does is seal away the legal record about a particular arrest or even a conviction. By the end of the process, you could do more as a functional member of society thanks to expunging your arrest or conviction, but don’t expect it to completely disappear.

The process of expungement in the state of California is not absolute, and your previous actions can still have an impact on how you live your life. Even so, you can reduce the impact of those actions significantly, and that may be enough for people to invest their time and effort into it.

What Are the Benefits of Expunging Your Criminal Record?

Expunging your criminal record can prove beneficial to you in a variety of ways. Let’s discuss a couple of the most notable benefits in this section.

The Job Hunt May Become Easier

Finding a job when you have a conviction on your criminal record can be remarkably difficult. The hope is that an employer will weigh your qualifications more and remember that you have already served your time, but consciously or not, it’s hard to prevent them from allowing some form of bias to affect whether or not they will hire you.

To be clear, there are limits on what employers can ask regarding your criminal history.

The Judicial Branch of California notes that employers cannot ask applicants about arrests or detentions that did not result in a conviction. They should also refrain from looking into any records of arrests that similarly did not lead to a conviction.

The law states that employers should not consider those records when trying to determine if they should fire, promote, or hire an applicant, but proving they did allow those records to affect their decision-making won’t be easy.

Expunging your record is a way to effectively take that course of action away from your potential employers. Those records won’t cloud their judgment because they won’t even show up in the first place.

You’ll Be Eligible for Government Licenses and Government Employment

Being convicted of a crime can be a deterrent to you simply obtaining IDs and documents that you need. They designed expunction to help with that.

By having your records successfully expunged, you will enjoy the same benefits provided by the government to others. If you want to obtain a government license or you’re applying for a job with the government, you can indicate on the corresponding applications that they dismissed your prior conviction.

To do so, you can write down “Yes – Conviction Dismissed” in the spot where they ask you about your criminal history. Responding that way will inform the government that they should treat you like other citizens who do not have convictions.

thinking about expungement

What Are the Matters That Expunction Will Not Help With?

As we talked about earlier, expunging your criminal history is not a magical salve or cure-all. Even if you can successfully clear your records, your past it will still affect your present in a few ways.

You Are Not Starting Over with a Blank Slate

One of the common misconceptions about expunction is that it will offer you a new beginning. They wipe your criminal history clean, and you don’t need to worry about your previous actions having some bearing on what could happen to you in the future.

That is not the case, however.

For instance, if they try you for something known as a wobbler – a violation of the law they can charge as a misdemeanor or felony depending on different factors – don’t be surprised if the prosecutor decides to go for the case that imposes harsher penalties. In this situation, they can still use your prior convictions they already expunged, as justification for you to receive a greater punishment.

Your Criminal History Can Continue to Affect Your Driving Privileges

For many Americans, getting to and from work would be a nightmarish ordeal if they could not drive. Simply getting around town could prove to be a significant challenge without a car.

If you were convicted of a DUI, chances are that your driving privileges have been affected already. Along with a fine and jail time, it can also come with driving-related penalties.

They may ask you to submit to roadside testing if a police officer pulls you over, and you may not be allowed to drive if there is a measurable amount of alcohol in your body. These same restrictions may still be in effect even after expunging your records.

Firearms May Still Be Off-Limits to You

In some cases, the penalties may include restrictions on firearm ownership. More specifically, there may be a set amount of time during which you are not allowed to own a firearm.

Your sentence may already indicate how long you cannot own a firearm. Take note that clearing your record will not change that. If the penalties you received said that you cannot own a firearm for a set amount of years, that will still be in effect following the expunction.

Pursuing a Political Career May Still Not Be an Option for You

Among the penalties, there can be restrictions on pursuing public office. The law can prohibit you from holding any political office because of the crime you committed.

Expunction is not going to get rid of that restriction, so you may need to alter your plans if you were thinking of becoming a politician.

Registering as a Sex Offender Is Still Your Obligation Unless You File a Separate Motion

People convicted of crimes that require them to register as a sex offender will still need to fulfill that obligation, regardless of expunging their criminal record. A person’s status as a sex offender will also still be made available to the public via the internet.

If you want to be free of this obligation, you will need to file a different motion in court.

Who Are Eligible to Have Their Convictions Dismissed?

As outlined in the California Penal Code section 1203 4a, there are specific requirements that an individual must meet before he/she can petition to have a conviction dismissed.

You Did Not Spend Time in State Prison

There are particular violations of the law that are not eligible for expunction. For the most part, though, you can still petition to have your conviction dismissed even if it was a felony.

A hit and run charge is an example of something that can be dismissed from your record.

You being charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony does not have a huge impact on whether you can still have your conviction dismissed. What does have a clear impact though is time spent in state prison.

If you have penalties such as fines, probation, and even county jail, time is not enough to render you ineligible for expunction, but a stint in state prison is.

The one loophole here is if you spent time in state prison, even if you were meant to carry out your sentence in county jail if you had committed the crime after the institution of Realignment under Proposition 47.

You Have Been Duly Punished

Penalties you may need to pay after they convict you can include county jail time, a fine, and probation. Before you even ponder the possibility of expunging your records, your focus should be on completing your sentence.

Spend the six months in jail, pay the $1,000 fine, and complete the probation they gave you. It’s only after you’ve done those things that you can finally think about having your conviction dismissed.

If your punishment did not involve probation, you can still eventually file to have your conviction expunged as long as the charge against you was either an infraction or a misdemeanor, and it has been at least one year since you were initially convicted.

You Are Not Serving Any Other Jail Sentence or Probation for a Separate Offense

This one should not come as any surprise, but if you are still in the middle of completing a jail sentence unrelated to the case you want to have dismissed, don’t expect the court to grant your request. The same goes for probation.

You Are Not Charged with Any Other Offense Currently

One more obvious prerequisite for expunction eligibility is the lack of any charges currently being pressed against you. Chances are you won’t be focused on clearing your record at this time since the pending charge is of greater importance.

Other requirements you need to meet if you want to have your records cleared that are dependent on the specific case. Consulting a lawyer about what exactly you need to do to become eligible for expunction would be a wise move in that scenario.


How Do You Expunge Your Criminal Record?

Clearing your criminal record is a multi-stage process.

First off, you will need to learn more about the details of your conviction. Details such as the date you were convicted, and your case number are among the things you should know.

You should then secure a copy of the information included in your criminal record.

The information you need your lawyer may provide or your probation officer. Failing that, check with the courts or California’s Department of Justice to obtain what you need.

Once you have the information on hand, you can move to the next step of the process, and that is the actual filing of the petition.

The exact petition you need to file will depend on your specific situation. After determining which petition you need to file, ask for the corresponding files and fill them out accurately.

Remember to ask if you need to provide photocopies of your petition and if you need to show your petition to the district attorney or the probation department.

Including supporting documents together with your petition is a good move.

They may also ask you to attend a hearing regarding your petition.

They will not ask petitioners to pay fees, but they can order you to reimburse the court. The amount you pay can change depending on the courthouse.

To sum up the process:

  • Learn more about the details of your conviction
  • Obtain a copy of the information featured in your criminal record
  • Secure petition files and fill them out correctly
  • Submit your petition to the required recipients
  • Attend a hearing if necessary
  • Reimburse the court

What Can You Do if Your Petition Was Not Granted?

They will not grant all petitions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the people filing them have no chance of expunging their records. The judge may have a reason for dismissing your petition, and you can learn more about that by talking to the courthouse clerk.

The courthouse clerk will tell you if you can still do anything about the denial. The clerk will also offer pointers for re-filing if that option is still available to you.

Improve the Chances of Your Petition Being Granted by Working with the Professionals

Getting a conviction expunged is no easy feat, and as you can see, there are many pitfalls that you may encounter as you go through that process. Working with an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer is a must if you want to avoid those pitfalls.

Contact Batta Fulkerson today and ask them about how they can help with your petition. Their legal expertise will be crucial in coming up with the best case for your conviction being dismissed. Seek out their help if you ever find yourself in that kind of situation.