A past conviction or arrest record can make it challenging to move on with your life, which is undoubtedly unfair because you have already served your dues for the offense. Fortunately, under the law, you might be able to gain a fresh start in life by seeking an expungement of the criminal charge from your record.
An expungement will typically allow you to leave your past behind and live free without worrying that a past criminal record may follow you. Since the expungement laws are complex and confusing, you should talk with a knowledgeable attorney before you embark on this life-changing process for legal guidance and representation in court.
If you have a detrimental conviction on your criminal record, attorneys at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney can help with the expungement process. Our experienced attorneys can help you maneuver the confusing court system to increase your chances of achieving a pleasing outcome.
Understanding Expungement Under the Law
Also known as expunction, expungement is a type of post-conviction relief that allows you to withdraw a "guilty" or "no contest" plea to enter a new plea of "not guilty" for ultimate dismissal of the case. According to section 1203.4 of the Penal Code (PC), an expungement will release you from most of the consequences and disabilities arising from a criminal conviction.
However, an expungement does not happen automatically, and there is no guarantee you will be eligible for this post-conviction relief option. To begin your expungement process, you must file particular forms with the court presiding over the case and pay the required filing fee, if necessary. If your expungement petition is successful, your record will change to reflect the dismissal.
After an expungement of your criminal charge, you can proudly and legally say that you don't have a conviction on your criminal record, even at job interviews. To maneuver the complex legal system and increase your chances of success on the expungement petition, you might want to hire an attorney for legal representation.
An experienced attorney will enlighten you on everything you need to know about expungement and how to meet the eligibility criteria for this form of post-conviction relief.
Steps to Take Before Filing an Expungement Petition
Not everyone qualifies for dismissal of their charge or expungement under PC 1203.4. Before you commence the legal process of filing an expungement petition, you may want to take the following steps to increase your chances of achieving a positive outcome:
Obtain the Necessary Copies of Your Criminal History
Since you need details of your criminal record when filing an expungement petition, it is wise to obtain them ahead of time. You can find some of these details or pieces of information on the papers you received from the court after conviction.
Another way to obtain a copy of your criminal records is by visiting the Department of Justice Criminal Record Review Unit website. You might have to pay a fee of $25 to obtain a copy of your criminal record, which will take a few weeks to arrive via your email.
Find Out Whether or Not You are Eligible for Expunction/Expungement
Since not everyone is eligible for expungement under PC 1203.4, this is an issue you cannot overlook. According to PC 1203.4, you are eligible to file for expungement if the following is true:
- You have a felony or misdemeanor conviction
- You are not currently in trouble with the law or facing a criminal charge
- You did not serve time in the state prison. However, under proposition (Prop) 47, if your crime would now attract a county jail term, the court can ignore your state prison sentence
- You are not currently on probation or serving a prison term for any offense
- You have received an early termination of your probation
- You do not have any unsettled court-ordered restitution or fines
- The court has reduced your felony offense to a misdemeanor
- At least one year is over since your case judgment or conviction, and you have not received a probation
You might be ineligible for an expungement of your criminal record if your case is a sex offense involving a child as the victim. Examples of these cases include:
- Lewd acts with a child under PC 288
- Sodomy with a child under PC 286(c)
- Oral copulation with a child under PC 287(c)
- Statutory rape under PC 261.5(d)
To know whether or not your case is eligible for an expungement under PC 1203.4, you should talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney for much-needed legal assistance.
Know the Precise Details of Your Past Convictions
If you have more than one conviction on your record, you have to know the details listed below for each one of them:
- The docket number or the case number
- Whether or not the judge returned a verdict on your case
- Your sentencing details, including the particular jail you were in custody and the date and time of your release
- Know the end date of your probation or parole if you had one as part of your sentence
Know the Current Status of Your Parole
If you have completed your parole successfully or were never on parole, you are eligible for expungement of your criminal record. However, if you are still on your parole, you must file an early parole termination petition before filing an expungement petition. The court will consider the factors listed below when determining whether or not to terminate your probation/parole:
- Your ability or capability to secure a job
- Your criminal record
- Your community ties or community involvement
- Your behavior while on parole
Vital Steps to Take When Filing for Expungement
Explained below are vital steps to take if you are on a mission to expunge your criminal record for a fresh start:
Hire an Attorney
First and foremost, it is wise to seek the services of legal counsel before you embark on this life-changing mission because the expungement process is paperwork-intensive and confusing. An experienced attorney will help assess your eligibility for this form of post-conviction relief and help you fill out the necessary paperwork for your application or petition.
Generally, having an attorney in your corner when filing an expungement petition will increase your chances of achieving an appealing outcome that you need to put your past behind and have a fresh start.
Obtain and Fill Out the Necessary Paperwork
The attorney you will decide to hire will help you choose the necessary paperwork to include in your expungement petition. Otherwise, most paperwork you need for an expungement petition is obtainable online through an internet search or at the relevant local courthouse.
Typically, the forms or documents you will need when filing an expungement petition will depend on your case facts and the stage you are already at on serving your sentence. For instance, whether or not you have completed your parole successfully.
The documents you may need for this petition will also depend on whether your conviction was a felony or a misdemeanor. If you have a felony offense conviction on your record, you have to reduce it to a misdemeanor before filing an expungement petition under PC 1203.4. To reduce a felony offense to a misdemeanor offense, you must file relevant forms under PC 17(b)(3).
If the petition to reduce your felony offense to a misdemeanor is successful, you can go ahead and petition the court to expunge the offense under PC 1203.4. Other forms you may need to strengthen your petition include:
- A proof of your participation in community service if it was a condition or requirement of your sentence
- A copy of character references
File for Expungement
After obtaining and completing all the necessary forms, you or your attorney should file them with the courthouse in the specific county where your case trial took place. If you must pay a filing fee, your attorney will let you know the particular amount you need to pay.
Depending on the courthouse policies or rules, your attorney might have to submit the expungement forms in person or send them via mail. When filing an expungement petition, you must do so on time to give the prosecutor adequate time to review the case before the hearing. Typically, your case should be on the prosecutor's desk at least fifteen (15) days before the expungement hearing.
If you cannot afford the necessary fees for filing your expungement petition, you might be eligible for financial assistance. Once the court receives your expungement petition papers, they will schedule a hearing.
Prepare for the Expungement Case Hearing
Before the actual hearing date of your expungement petition, it is wise to meet up with your legal counsel and prepare for the hearing thoroughly. Depending on your case facts, your presence might be necessary at this hearing or not.
During the expungement hearing, you should be ready for anything. If the court raises reasons to reject your petition, your attorney should be prepared with counteractive arguments to defend it for an appealing outcome.
Show Up for Your Expungement Hearing
Although your attorney can attend the expungement hearing on your behalf, you also can avail yourself at the hearing if need be. During the expungement hearing, a judge will be available to decide on whether to grant you an expungement or not.
Although an expungement hearing lasts less than fifteen (15) minutes, it is advisable to arrive in court on time and conduct yourself appropriately. During this hearing, the judge will determine your eligibility for expunction or expungement under PC 1203.4 based on the factors listed below:
- Your parole/probation status
- Your unique charges
- Whether or not you have additional charges or convictions
- Your community involvement or community ties
- Your likelihood to find a job
The Court's Decision
If the court accepts your petition, the Superior Court will send you a signed and stamped order outlining the expungement/dismissal of your conviction. Since your criminal record might still be accessible to people who want to know your criminal background, your attorney will help you file another petition to seal the expunged records under PC 851.91.
After sealing your expungement, you can deny having a criminal history in most situations, unless if:
- you want to run for elections or public office,
- you are applying for a job with the Lottery Commission or military, or
- you are applying for a state license.
On the other hand, if the court denies your expungement petition, you should know the reasons for the denial and refile your petition after six (6) months with all the necessary and vital changes.
Benefits of Obtaining an Expungement Under PC 1203.4
Undoubtedly, you will reap several benefits if you obtain an expungement under PC 1203.4. Below are some of the most significant benefits of obtaining an expungement:
Securing a Reliable Employment Will be Easier
As you might beware, most employers nowadays will most likely check your criminal background before hiring job applicants. In today's world of computer technology, checking your criminal background would take just a touch of a button.
Because of that, it might be challenging to secure employment if you have a criminal record, like arrests or convictions. However, after obtaining an expungement under PC 1203.4, a potential employer will have no right to discriminate against you due to an expunged conviction.
After an expungement, you can legally say you do not have a criminal record during a job interview. Furthermore, according to the Code of Regulations, employers have no authority to ask job applicants whether or not they have expunged misdemeanor convictions.
Obtaining a Professional License Will be Easier
If you want to secure a professional license like a real estate license or a contractor license, obtaining an expungement of your criminal record would help if you have a conviction on your record. Although you are still required to disclose your convictions when applying for these licenses, a fair-minded license officer will understand that you had to do what you can to obtain an expungement of your past convictions.
Your Expunged Convictions Will Not Affect Your Credibility as an Eyewitness in Court
Unless you are a defendant facing prosecution for a new charge, your expunged convictions will not affect your credibility as an eyewitness in another person's case or in a civil suit where you are the plaintiff.
Typically, if you have a felony conviction on your record and you are serving as an eyewitness in a case, the other party attorney might bring up this issue as a strategy to question the credibility of your testimony. However, if you have already obtained an expungement of this felony conviction from your record, they will not be able to use it against you.
You Can Secure a Decision-Making Position in a Professional Organization
Generally, most professional organizations will check your criminal background before appointing or inviting you to a decision-making position or membership. Fortunately, obtaining an expungement can reduce the stigma and negativity associated with having a criminal record to increase your chances of appointment in a decision-making position or seat in a professional organization.
You Will Finally Enjoy Personal Satisfaction of Not Having a Criminal Record
Undoubtedly, having a criminal record can be detrimental to your reputation because it follows you wherever you go. Although an expungement will not wipe off your past, it gives you an opportunity for a fresh start to live your life without being haunted by your past. Knowing that your past criminal history is no longer visible to the public brings peace of mind and personal satisfaction.
What to Do If You Are Ineligible for Expungement
Fortunately, if you are ineligible for expungement under PC 1203.4, you might be able to obtain relief for a past offense through any of the following ways:
Obtain a Certificate of Rehabilitation (COR)
A COR is another way of clearing your criminal record, which could work out in your favor for a fresh start. Typically, a COR is a court order stating that you are now a law-abiding citizen. Although a COR will not erase or clear a conviction from your criminal record, it will release you from most disabilities arising from the conviction and restore some of your rights, such as:
- Right to possess a firearm
- Right to cast a vote
- Right to serve in a jury
Unlike an expungement, after obtaining a COR, you will still answer "YES" to a question regarding your past conviction during a job interview. Another notable benefit of obtaining a COR is that it will relieve you from the lifetime duty of registering as a sex offender if you have a conviction for a sex crime. Typically, you qualify for a COR if you meet the criteria listed below:
- you have completed a rehabilitation program successfully
- you were not on probation or parole for a felony offense
- You have not served a prison term for a new crime since the dismissal or completion of your sentence
- you have resided here for the past five years
Obtain a Governor’s Direct Pardon
Like a COR, obtaining the governor's direct pardon will relieve you from most consequences and disabilities associated with a conviction.
Typically, any convict can apply for a governor's pardon after completing a rehabilitation program successfully and satisfyingly. However, to apply for a governor's direct pardon, you have to wait for at least ten years after your release from parole or serving your prison term.
Have Your Criminal Record Sealed
According to PC 851.91, you have a legal right to have a past arrest record sealed and destroyed if it did not result in a conviction. For the sake of this statute, an arrest did not result in a conviction if the following is true:
- The prosecutor did not file your charges after an arrest
- The alleged charges were later acquitted because you were not guilty at trial
- The prosecutor did not file the alleged charges within the specified statute of limitations
- You chose to undertake a pretrial diversion program in exchange for a dismissal of the alleged charge
Once your arrest record is sealed and destroyed, it will cease to appear during most background checks. If you want to pursue this option of clearing your criminal record, it is wise to do so with the help of an attorney for relevant legal advice and representation.
Frequently Asked Questions on Expungement Under PC 1203.4
Elaborated below are some of the most frequently asked questions about expungement under PC 1203.4:
Will I Continue Registering as a Sex Offender After an Expungement?
An expungement will release you from most disabilities arising from a conviction. However, it will not release you from the lifetime obligation to register as a sex offender if you have a conviction for a sex offense. To obtain this kind of post-conviction relief, you have to apply for a governor's pardon or a COR if your conviction was not due to a sex crime against a minor or child.
Does Expungement Come With Immigration Benefits?
Generally, obtaining an expungement under PC 1203.4 does not preclude negative immigration consequences of a conviction, for example, deportation or denial of admission in the country after deportation.
Do I Need the Services of an Attorney When Seeking an Expungement?
Although you can file an expungement without the help of an attorney, having an attorney in your corner during this process increases your chances of achieving an appealing outcome on your petition. Your attorney will help you persuade and convince the judge that you are an excellent candidate for this form of post-conviction relief.
To find a dependable attorney without a hassle, you may want to consider the following:
- The attorney's experience
- The attorney's credibility
- The attorney's reputation
- The attorney's cost of services
- The attorney's location
- The attorney's personality
As noted above, if you have an attorney on your side when seeking an expungement, you do not have to show up in court because they can do so on your behalf.
Find an Experienced Chula Vista Criminal Attorney Near Me
If you have a past conviction holding your back in life, attorneys at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney can help you file for an expungement under PC 1203.4 for a fresh start that you deserve. We invite you to call us at 619-877-6894 to have our attorneys determine whether or not you are eligible for this form of post-conviction relief.