Everything You Need to Know About Expungement in California



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The Meaning of Expungement

Dealing with a criminal conviction in the US is challenging even after you’ve served your sentence. Convicts often find it difficult to progress in life because of their criminal records, which show up on employment/background checks.

Your previous conviction may be holding you back from getting a job, finding a place to live, getting into college, or attaining any other goal because you have a record of it.

Expungement is a term that means to “erase (something) from memory or existence.” In criminal law, expungement is a process that destroys or seals a person’s criminal records, including arrest or conviction records. It allows the convict whose records are expunged to have a fresh start in life without the conviction hanging over their heads.

Generally, the expungement process in the US applies to both felony and misdemeanor convictions where the defendant has completed their sentence and paid any restitution. However, the process for criminal expungement and the exact requirements for qualification varies and depends on the criminal law in each state.

So, here we discuss the expungement process in California for the benefit of anyone convicted of a crime within the state. Read on to learn more about California expungement law and how an expungement attorney might be able to help with the process.

The Benefits of Expungement


The benefits of expungement are vast and can significantly improve the quality of life for those with a criminal record.

For starters, having a felony expunged can provide immense psychological relief as it removes the stigma associated with being labeled a convicted criminal. This can improve self-esteem and mental well-being, increasing the individual’s chances of rehabilitation and positive societal reintegration.

From a practical standpoint, clear criminal records can open up a world of opportunities previously closed due to criminal convictions. It facilitates more accessible access to employment, as many employers hesitate to hire individuals with criminal records. With expungement, the conviction will not appear on most background checks, providing an equal footing with other job applicants.

Additionally, expungement can ease the path to securing housing and higher education opportunities, often requiring background checks. It can even restore certain civil rights, such as voting or serving on a jury.

However, it’s important to note that expungement does not completely erase a criminal record. Law enforcement agencies and certain government entities may still have access to the records, but they will no longer be visible to the general public.

Expungement Under the California Penal Code Section

In California, the expungement process is a legal procedure that petitions the court to permanently remove a criminal conviction from a person’s criminal record. It enables the convicted person to withdraw the guilty verdict or plea from their case and enter a new “not guilty” plea. Then, the conviction is set aside, and the case will be dismissed.

The process is governed by the California Penal Code, which states the requirements and circumstances for granting expungement. However, the expungement process in California is not absolute, as the records are not erased or destroyed.

California expungement cleans up a person’s criminal history by making the records unavailable or invisible during background checks by third parties, such as potential employers, to help the convict move on with life after serving their sentence.

If granted, it releases you from “all penalties and disabilities” from your misdemeanor or felony conviction. This means you may no longer have to disclose the conviction to potential employers upon a conditional offer of employment. 

Nevertheless, the expunged criminal records may remain visible to law enforcement officers and judicial authorities. 

Types of Expungement


There are two types of expungement available under California law, as follows:

Mandatory Expungement

Sometimes, the court must grant expungement to those qualified once they file a petition. Such cases include felonies and misdemeanors where:

  • The penalty involved probation or a county jail sentence
  • The convict fulfilled the terms and conditions of their probation or was granted early termination of probation.

In such cases, expungement is usually granted automatically.

Discretionary Expungement

In discretionary expungement, the grant of the convict’s application is subject to the judge’s discretion. This type of expungement applies in cases other than those mentioned above.

The petitioner would need to convince the judge to make an expungement order in their favor to get relief. If your case falls within this category, having an experienced expungement attorney to advance convincing arguments might do the trick and get the court to rule in your favor.

Who Qualifies for Expungement in California?


Generally, you can apply to clean your criminal record in California if no new cases are pending against you and you are not on probation or parole in any other criminal case. There are also specific eligibility requirements for different crimes, so you might have to consult an attorney to determine the qualifications for your particular offense and get an assessment.


Expungement Eligibility: Criteria and Exceptions

To be eligible for expungement under California law, individuals must meet the following conditions:

  • Completion of probation: Applicants must have successfully completed probation for the offense. This includes fulfilling all conditions of probation, such as paying fines, completing community service, attending counseling, and not committing any new crimes.
  • Misdemeanor or felony convictions: Both misdemeanor and felony convictions are eligible for expungement, provided the sentence did not include time in state prison. Felonies that could have been prosecuted as misdemeanors (wobblers) may also qualify.
  • No Pending Charges: At the time of application, the individual must not be facing charges for any offense, on probation for another offense, or serving a sentence for any crime.

However, there are notable exceptions. Certain convictions preclude eligibility for expungement, including:

  • Serious sexual offenses against minors
  • Some vehicular manslaughter charges
  • Crimes that were sentenced to state prison under certain sections of the California Penal Code.

Understanding these eligibility criteria and exceptions is crucial for those seeking to clear their record. It’s a complex process, often requiring the expertise of a skilled attorney to navigate successfully.


What Crimes Can Be Expunged in California?

Many crimes can be expunged in California, including felony and misdemeanor convictions. In most cases, whether or not you’re eligible for expungement depends on the facts of each case, and whether you have successfully served your sentence, and whether you’ve been guilty of probation violation.

To ascertain your eligibility, you might need to contact a criminal defense attorney whose practice area involves the offense for which you were convicted. For example, if you’re dealing with a DUI or assault conviction, getting a DUI lawyer or assault lawyer in Oakland, CA, to help with your expungement increases your chances of success, especially when your case falls under discretionary expungement.

Nevertheless, some criminal convictions cannot be expunged in California. If you’ve been convicted of such crimes and served your sentence in a state prison, you might have to live with the consequences forever.

What You Need for Your California Expungement


To apply for expungement in California, you’ll need to have the following information about your case:

  • Your case number
  • The date of your conviction or arrest (if you were not convicted)
  • The county where you were convicted or arrested
  • The section of the California Penal Code under which you were convicted or arrested.

This information usually forms part of your criminal record or Record of Arrest or Prosecution (RAP) Sheet. If you do not have a copy of your record, your attorney can help you obtain one from the court.

The Role of a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Expungement Cases 

A criminal defense lawyer can be critical in your California expungement case. Here are some of the ways an attorney can assist you:


An experienced attorney can help evaluate your case and determine whether you qualify for expungement under California law.


Your lawyer can prepare and file all necessary paperwork on your behalf, ensuring that your petition meets all the requirements of the California Penal Code and local court rules.


If your case falls under discretionary expungement, you’ll need to argue your case in front of a judge. A seasoned criminal defense lawyer with excellent oratory skills can present the most compelling arguments on your behalf to persuade the court to grant expungement.


If your application is denied, your attorney can help you refile or appeal the decision.

Contact a Skilled California Criminal Defense Lawyer for Help

The expungement process in California is not automatic unless your case falls within the scope of mandatory expungement. In every other situation, you’ll need to do all you can to convince the judge that expungement is appropriate in your case. Getting professional help from an experienced expungement attorney could be beneficial here.

Your attorney would know the requirements of the law and ensure that your expungement petition fulfills the necessary conditions. This would make it easier to convince the judge that granting an expungement order is appropriate in your case. Consider hiring an attorney today to increase your chances of success before the expungement judge.

If you need further information on getting a California expungement, felony reduction, or your eligibility for the process, contact us at the Law Office of Rebecca Feigelson. We can answer your questions and represent you in court diligently, if necessary.

Contact us soon, and let us help you as you work towards getting your California criminal record expunged.