Legal penalties such as incarceration or paying a fine are difficult to deal with but oftentimes the most damaging consequence of a criminal conviction is the stigma of having a criminal record. Having a criminal record can adversely affect your career and personal life because many people are reluctant to associate with those who have been found guilty of a crime. However, if you have paid your debt to society you may be eligible for an expungement (also known as a dismissal), which is the legal term for having your conviction removed from your record. You will no longer be required to disclose the conviction when asked if you have a criminal record during a job interview and you can lawfully answer “no” when asked if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime. Under Penal Code 1203.4 an expungement removes “all penalties and disabilities” arising out of a criminal conviction; in other words, it wipes your slate completely clean. Therefore if you have been convicted of a crime it is in your best interest to hire an attorney to have it expunged as soon as possible.
Who is eligible for an expungement?
If you have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in California you are eligible for expungement so long as:
- You have successfully completed probation for the offense, and
- You either:
- Did not serve time in state prison for the offense, or
- Served time in state prison only because you committed the crime prior to the implementation of “Realignment” under Proposition 47 (Prop 47 reduced sentencing for certain theft and drug crimes)
If you have completed probation and a jail sentence and/or paid your fine you can have your conviction expunged from the record. Successfully completing probation means you completed all the terms of your probation (such as paying all fines, completing any required counseling programs or community service, etc…) attended all required court appearances (either in person or through your attorney), and did not commit any new crimes while on probation.
Even if you received a probation violation you may still be eligible for expungement. The court will hold a special hearing to determine whether someone who violated their probation may still be eligible for an expungement. The court will consider a totality of the circumstances to determine whether an individual who violated their probation can receive an expungement. The court will weigh factors such as the individual’s overall performance while on probation, the seriousness of the underlying conviction, past criminal history, and any additional evidence for why the individual deserves an expungement such as employment opportunities.
Who is not eligible for an expungement?
You may not have a conviction expunged if:
- You are currently charged with another crime
- You are currently on probation for a criminal offense
- You are serving a sentence for a criminal offense
Also, serious sex crimes against children can never be expunged from your record.
How the expungement process works
First, it is necessary to determine whether you are eligible for an expungement. Provided you are eligible, the next step is to conduct legal research on the current law to prepare for your expungement hearing. Once the legal research has been completed, the necessary paperwork must be filed within the proper time frames. Timely filing of paperwork is essential for success because the prosecutor needs time to review your case prior to the hearing. Failing to file paperwork on time will severely hinder your ability to get an expungement. The final step is to attend an expungement hearing in the designated court where the judge will issue a final decision regarding your expungement application.
Benefits of an expungement
There are numerous benefits to expunging your criminal record. For many people, the most significant benefit of an expungement is the effect it will have on your career. For example, employers may not discriminate against you based on expunged convictions and you can lawfully answer “no” when an employer asks if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime.
Expunging your record also helps those seeking a state professional license (such as a contractor’s license or a real estate license). Licensing agencies are generally more likely to grant a state license to a person whose convictions have been expunged.
An expungement also enhances your credibility as a witness in court. If you are called to testify at trial, opposing counsel may not use your expunged conviction to impeach your credibility. This is especially important when you need to testify on your own behalf in a proceeding. For example, if someone sues you for a car accident and you need to testify that the other driver was at fault having an expunged record will be enormously helpful in defending yourself.
There is also great personal relief that comes with having a conviction expunged. An expungement is a tangible way to put the past behind you and get on with your life. Many people express deep satisfaction upon expunging their records because it provides a sense of closure to a difficult chapter in their lives.
If you have been convicted of a crime and have completed your sentence it is in your best interest to begin the expungement process immediately.