Learn About the Expungement Procedure

Learn About the Expungement Procedure

How to Seal a Criminal Record in California

People charged with crimes in California quickly learn that the consequences extend far beyond the courtroom. In addition to serving jail time, paying fines and completing probation, people convicted of criminal offenses, even relatively minor ones, are forced to endure the lingering consequences of having a criminal record. Fortunately, many offenses can be removed from a person’s legal record through the process of expunction. 

How does the arrest and conviction process work?

There are many steps between arrest and conviction. First, there is an initial complaint, which can come from another citizen or directly from a law enforcement agency. When an initial complaint results in arrest, the subject of the arrest assumes the role of a defendant. After arrest, defendants make an initial court appearance, during which the presiding judge determines whether probable cause exists to believe a defendant committed the offense. If the judge determines that probable cause exists, he or she moves on to the subject of bail. At this point, one of three things will happen: The judge will release the defendant on his or her own recognizance, set a monetary bail amount or deny bail and remand the defendant until trial or sentencing.

When a monetary bail is assigned, a defendant can either pay the entire bail amount or enlist the services of a bail bonds agency. If the defendant pays the bail amount, it is held until the case is adjudicated and then returned. Because bail amounts are often quite high, most defendants hire a bail bonds agency. Typically, a bail bonds agency will require 10 percent of the total bail amount and a small fee, which is usually between $50 and $100. Regardless of the case’s outcome, none of this money is returned to the defendant.

Criminal cases have three possible outcomes: conviction, acquittal or dismissal. Most cases are resolved via plea bargaining, which means a defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for leniency or the reduction of charges. Upon conviction, the charges are placed on a defendant’s legal record.

What does it mean to expunge criminal record?

Expungement refers to the process whereby a defendant can have a criminal conviction removed from his or her record. The legal effect of an expungement is that the conviction in question will no longer appear in state or federal repositories. Basically, getting a criminal record expunged removes the conviction from a defendant’s record and replaces it with a plea of not guilty. After the conviction is vacated and the not guilty plea is entered, the charge is dismissed. The legal effect of an expungement only erases the conviction, not the arrest itself, but recipients of expungement can legally answer “no” to questions about criminal convictions on job applications and similar documents. 

What is the expungement process California?

Having criminal records sealed in California requires that all sentencing conditions have been fulfilled, so a criminal conviction cannot be expunged in California until all fines have been paid and probation has been completed. Once all conditions have been met, a person may apply to have his or her criminal records sealed. 

How does someone apply to have courts expunge criminal record?

For most misdemeanors, the expungement process California requires people seeking expungement to first obtain a copy of their criminal records. This can be done at the superior court of the county in which the offense occurred. Once that is done, people can then apply to have a criminal record expunged. For felony offenses that qualify for expungement, the process is a bit more involved. People seeking to have a felony expunged must first petition the court to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor; this involves the petitioner convincing a judge that he or she assumes responsibility for the offense and has made significant progress toward rehabilitation.

Do all crimes qualify for expungement?

No, most felonies and even some misdemeanors cannot be expunged. Generally, felony charges that could have been charged as misdemeanors, sometimes called “wobbler” charges, qualify. Misdemeanors involving minors, sexually-based offenses and serious weapons charges often do not qualify. If unsure whether a criminal conviction can be expunged, people may want to consult a qualified criminal attorney.

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